Brave Barbie takes leap to engage algebra students

  • Posted: Monday, January 13, 2014 12:01 a.m.
    UPDATED: Monday, January 13, 2014 8:24 a.m.
STAFF PHOTO BY ROB NOVIT
Katelyn Hughes, left, and Jala Jenkins, South Aiken High School algebra I students, did some good calculations to prevent bungee-jumping Barbie from cracking her head in a plunge off the top of the football stadium stands later in the day.
STAFF PHOTO BY ROB NOVIT Katelyn Hughes, left, and Jala Jenkins, South Aiken High School algebra I students, did some good calculations to prevent bungee-jumping Barbie from cracking her head in a plunge off the top of the football stadium stands later in the day.

During the search for a mathematical Holy Grail, about two dozen Barbies willingly, more or less, put their doll lives in jeopardy.

Alas, some made the ultimate sacrifice – among them the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader Barbie, who slammed her head into the ground after being dropped off the top of the football stadium at South Aiken High School.

OK, Barbie actually survived – just in time for another fall off the stands. Call it “Barbie Bungie Jumping.” Really, that's what teacher Rachelle Mason, her colleagues and seven classes of algebra I students formally named the event.

The freshmen worked on the data involved with attaching rubber bands to the feet of each Barbie – recording how far she would fall with each additional rubber band.

“Ours hit the ground,” said ninth-grader Jamie Robinette cheerfully. “It's a fun way to learn algebra.”

That's just the point, of course. The kids “had a great time recording data and predicting results,” Mason said. “They are excited to see their work in action.”

Once upon a time, math seemed to be rather straightforward and well, maybe a little dull, too.

“We incorporate as many hands-on opportunities as we can,” said Stacey Salley, a School District math specialist. “The focus is for teachers to make sure that lessons are engaging and real-world.”

A lot of younger teachers choose to get into the profession because of their own classroom memories, said Davina Truitt, an East Aiken School of the Arts instructional coach. Math engagement is just as important for elementary students.

“We try to incorporate new things that make math come alive to the kids,” Truitt said. “Before the holidays, our fourth-grade teachers did a unit on fractions – their students designing gingerbread houses and determining the fractional amounts in the number of gumdrops and graham crackers.”

During the Barbie project at South Aiken, the algebra I students did group work in the cafeteria to experiment with incremental numbers of rubber bands. They established scatter plots and performed linear regressions to predict how many rubber bands they would need on each Barbie – trying to make sure each would fall from about 21 feet; close to the ground, without crashing into it. Some students found success as Barbie got within two inches or even less from oblivion.

Mason added to the humor of it, noting that Barbie would either “have the ride of her life or die from a head impact to the ground.”

People of a certain age might not recall the kinds of questions related to the project – the interpretation of the line of fit; the correlation coefficient about the model generated by the calculator; and the equation used to determine the number of rubber bands Barbie needed.

Yet all that stuff was fun, said freshman Amber Inabinett, who found the project brought back some warm memories. She still has her Princess Barbie dolls, and as a child, she would get them out to make her feel better during a bad day. Most of the girls brought their Barbie's, but Inabinett did not.

“I didn't want to put them at risk,” she said with a laugh.

Senior writer Rob Novit is the Aiken Standard's education reporter and has been with the newspaper since September 2001. He is a native of Walterboro and majored in journalism at the University of Georgia.

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