Projectile Motion: Flight 370

Last week we had wrapped up quadratic functions, and struggled through the quadratic formula.  I decided to spend some time on formula for projectile motion to review the quadratic formula and couldn’t find great problems or activities. So I created these two activities.

1. Malaysian Airlines Missing Flight

2. Barbie Drop

I’m going to split these into two posts to share them with y’all.

The world, including myself, has been captivated by the missing plane, Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.  I see the situation full of math – just look at this infographic from the Washington Post.  Some of this math was an almost perfect fit for what we were doing and I couldn’t pass it up.  We had already done little work with projectiles so my students were familiar with the formula.  Our question: How long it would take for the plane to fall to the ground?

We began by watching the first minute of this video and predicting what may have happened to the plane:

We worked through this worksheet.  For problems 1 and 2a, I insisted that the only wrong answer was no answer, which helped boost student confidence.  We broke it down and answered question by question so everyone could work through it.  Students did the heavy lifting practicing the quadratic formula and were working with a purpose.  They figured out what else we needed to create our equation and worked away.

What worked:

+ One class worked non-stop.  They had INTENSE discussions about what could have happened.

+ My Pre-AP students were introduced to projectile motion with this problem.  Its hard not to be hooked with 230 people missing.

+We were successful using big numbers in a complex formula 🙂

+ Students still want to know where the plane is – its incredibly engaging.

What I’d change next time:

– Some classes weren’t engaged with this problem.  Those classes also the ones that were introduced to the problem the day before (when I hadn’t yet found the video).

– I simplified the problem a bit and eliminated the glide opportunity.  That’s okay, but I didn’t tell my students how or why I did that – I could have forecasted to their future science and math classes.

– The worksheet needs to be better organized and the questions from number 2 split up.

– With a little more information and prep, this could have been done with peers instead of walked through. I’m okay with how it turned out because it was a review of the day before to prep for our second activity.


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