Yesterday I had my 8th grade students exploring an online projectile motion simulation where they launched various objects from a cannon, exploring what variables affect how far an object will travel (i.e., mass, air resistance, trajectory arc, etc.). Partway through the class, one student exclaimed that he thought the simulation was “Just like Angry Birds!” Hearing several classmates excitedly chime in and agree with the student’s assessment, I decided it was time to look into the physics behind this game and whether or not it might offer a potential new way to engage my students in physics.
For those of you not familiar with Angry Birds, it’s a game in which one uses a finger-controlled slingshot to launch birds, trying to destroy structures and enemy pigs. While the premise is simple (and a bit contrived), the game is very difficult to put down (I’ve personally been up late to play “just one more level…”). A quick search yielded a Wired magazine article in which they did frame-by-frame analysis of the launches, looking to see if the catapult-slung birds match up with real-world physics. As it turns out, they do!
Innovative Uses in the Classroom
- Use the video analysis tools that are part of Vernier’s LoggerPro or Cabrillo’s (free) Tracker software to analyze Angry Bird launches, which are available on YouTube. Both of these programs allow students to place dots on the bird’s location in each video frame, plotting x and y values on the coordinate plane. For my middle school students, we’ll be looking at the linear and parabolic equations that match up with the bird’s horizontal and vertical positions respectively. For more advanced students, consider having students do some of the calculations for acceleration, velocity, etc. using the data from the video analysis. The Wired article does a great job outlining some of these calculations. Read the rest of this entry →