While foraging for markers, a student in one of my math and programming classes
stumbled upon some old science equipment I keep in the closet. The
air-propelled rocket launcher was promptly brought out of retirement and
set up in the long rectangular space at the rear of the math center. It
wasn't long before a rousing game of "hit the target" was underway.
Based on the number of times the soft foam rocket came perilously close
to my head, it would seem I was the target although everyone agreed they
were aiming for the algebra poster.

Sensing an opportunity among
the chaos, I grabbed a hula hoop out of the closet of science and
placed in on the floor on the other side of the room. The
hula hoop proved a more interesting target and it wasn't long before the
discussion headed in the direction of angles and velocity. An impromptu
lesson on projectile motion ensued.

We measured launch angles
and landing distances and recorded flight times. We refined our
understanding of velocity and used horizontal motion data to find
starting velocities. Through our experiments, we hit upon combinations
of velocities and launch angles that would land our rocket inside the
hula hoop. One student, who grew frustrated with the trial and error
process, asked,

"Can we calculate the velocity and angle if we know where we want the rocket to land?"

Since
this was a math and programming course, I suggested we write a program
that models the experiment and perhaps make a game based on this
student's question. After several weeks of brainstorming, coding, revising, and experimenting, we came up with this:

There are both elements of game design (points
awarded, incentives for calculations and good guesses, increasingly
difficult levels, and interesting sound effects) and elements of
instructional design (timed flights, recorded data, and explanation of
math equations). We also replaced the theme of destruction typically
seen in these games with a more positive rescue mission plot. I
am incredibly proud of this group and all that they have accomplished
this year. I know some will be moving on but I hope we can continue our
work next year.

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