Students use Barbie to learn math concepts

Published 10:21 am Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Mattel’s iconic doll was used as a teaching tool at the Academy of Innovation Monday afternoon.

Martha Hebert’s eight-grade students used trial and error, scatter plots, proportions and other algebraic methods to determine how many rubber bands were needed to bungee a Barbie doll from the fire department’s 40-foot cherry picker to the ground. Each of her six classes participated in calculating the correct number of bands needed, however, the winning team used science to come out ahead.

The teams of Abigail Smith, Caitlin Doyle and Elle Robinson as well as Gabe Katzenmeyer, Jaden Sanders and Demario Turner each used 78 rubber bands to bungee their Barbie, except the two teams’ final scores were separated by one inch. Smith, Doyle and Robinson stretched their rubber bands, and thus giving it a greater elasticity, to get their Barbie to bungee 5 feet, 3 inches from the ground.

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“You want her to get her maximum thrill as close to the ground as possible without busting her head open,” Hebert said. “So based on the scatter plot and the information they found in the classroom they were able to right an equation and figure out the number of rubber bands they needed to drop her from the second floor of our building.”

Since the experiment was initially done using the school’s second floor stairwell, measuring at 168 inches with 27 rubber bands, Smith, Doyle and Robinson had to adjust their original findings according to the new variable of the  fire department cherry picker.

They used an inches-to-bands proportion and solved for the rubber-band variable.

“We did 168 (inches) over 27 equals 480 inches over X. We found X, which is the number of rubber bands we used,” Robinson said as each girl of the winning team thanked Hebert for being a great teacher.

Multiply 27 by 480, and divide that product by 168, the final result is 77.14, which was rounded up to the next whole number of 78.

Hebert moved to Vicksburg from south Louisiana and a colleague at her former school conducted the same experiment. As she conversed with another teacher at the academy about the concepts learned in eighth-grade math, she knew immediately the Barbie drop was a great way to put those objectives on display.

Hebert watched excitedly as her students became mathematicians to figure out equations and applying match concepts such as line of best fit.

Students often complain about math not being useful outside of school but Hebert used this lesson to disprove their preconceived notions.

“I used them videos of people actually bungee jumping. We discussed the people in charge of the bungee jump, what did they have to do before this person puts their life in their hands?” Hebert said. “They had to learn all kinds of math. They had to know the weight of the person, the height of a person, the height of a cliff their jumping from. Just the different things like that that would keep this person from busting their head open and dying or ending up in a hospital.”