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Barbie can bungee

For high school math students, calculation errors are an opportunity to grow and to learn. But if you’re a Barbie or Ken doll in teacher James Rex’s classroom at Godwin Heights High School, such errors could be detrimental to your head.

Ken dangles from the balcony

Recently, students in Rex’s statistics class applied what they had learned to determine the length of a rubber-band “bungee” cord needed to drop a doll off of the gym’s balcony.

A good jump would bring a doll within 70 centimeters of the floor. A jump above the 90 centimeter mark or one that resulted in a head bump for Barbie or Ken would cost students extra points. The stakes were high, as Rex promised a pizza party if the average score stayed below 70 centimeters.

“We spent three weeks doing the math to get to this point,” said 12th grader Teara Morris, who worked with classmates Jessica Wise and Carlos Arroyo to calculate how many rubber bands it would take to get their doll, “Kenny G”, close to the floor without hurting his head. Teara said the math could be confusing but between the three of them, they figured it out.

Jessica said it took a step-wise process involving a response, explanatory variable, scatter plot, finding a correlation on a website, then figuring out if the bungee falls in a quadratic or linear fashion to prepare Kenny G for the jump.

Time to free fall, doll

Students worked in groups of two or three. When it came time to see if their calculations were correct, they got one test jump before the real thing. Rex counted down from three before the groups sent their dolls careening off of the balcony. All but one group cleared the floor. Several came within a few centimeters.

When all was said and done, the class average was well below 70 centimeters. In other words, they got their pizza party.

Kamari Hunnicutt and Beth Monterroso record the doll’s distance from the ground

Beyond the numbers

Rex said he borrowed the Barbie Bungee lesson from an online learning resource and adapted it for his classroom. This marks the third year he’s taught this particular lesson. In addition to teaching math, Rex said he focuses on building classroom culture — celebrating one another’s successes as opposed to competing and comparing.

“These were our best drops by far,” said Rex. “Being able to find activities that fit our standards but that bring the numbers to life makes it fun. Watching them celebrate each other is the highlight of the whole experience.”

Senor Kishara Davenport, whose Barbie cleared the floor by a single centimeter, had Rex’s Algebra 2 class last year, where students did a project based on the television show “Shark Tank.”

“It helps you become more engaged with the math, because it can be a boring subject,” said Kishara. “But this is a way to make it fun.”

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Bridie Bereza
Bridie Bereza
Bridie Bereza hails from Lansing and has worked in the Grand Rapids area as a reporter, freelance writer, and communicator since graduating from Aquinas College in 2003. She feels privileged to cover West Michigan's public schools and hopes to shed a little light on the amazing things happening there through her reporting.

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