Angry Bird Physics: An Introduction to Two Dimensional Motion

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Students will use computer simulations to investigate the effects of initial velocity, launch angle and air resistance on a projectile.

Big Idea

The vertical and horizontal velocities of a projectile are independent of each other.


5 minutes

One goal of this lesson is to help students use a simulation to study the relationship between launch angle and initial velocity on a projectile's motion. This lesson addresses the HS-PS2-1 standard because it asks students to use a simulation to study an object whose acceleration directly relates to the force of gravity. It aligns with the NGSS Practices of Developing and Using Models (SP2), Constructing Explanations (SP6), and Obtaining, Evaluating and Communicating Information (SP8) for Science because students will use data from the simulation and computational logic to create summaries to explain factors that are related to a projectile's motion. 

This portion of the lesson uses a Classroom Strategy with a red copy-this label in the top left hand corner of the slide where student jot down the date, objective and one additional piece of information like a BIG Idea, quick facts and quotes. Today's additional piece of information is a quick fact that states that at the height of its popularity, users played a daily average of 300 million minutes of Angry Birds. I choose this quick fact because it connects to the whiteboard review which asks students to find the equivalent time in years and American lifetimes to account for 300 million minutes if a single gamer attempted to complete this task. The quick fact gets students thinking about the concept of equivalent times and shared effort.

I design my curriculum around inquiry and making connections. With this in mind, I ask students to integrate knowledge and skills they have acquired from both their academic and social lives. In this lesson, I ask students to leverage the skill of dimensional analysis. This relates to (SP3) because students use their understanding of conversions to determine how many American lifetimes are equivalent to the total time that users spent playing angry birds when it was at the height of its popularity.

Analyzing a Round of Angry Birds

20 minutes

In this portion of the lesson, I spend the first five minutes showing a video clip of a user playing the first level of angry birds. I have students watch the Angry Birds video clip and then I use the See Think Wonder protocol to help students make connections between the video clip and physics concepts we have covered thus far in the semester. During this portion of the lesson, I got a visceral reaction from students because the user was not playing the level in a way that the students considered to be competent. 

After I play the clip the second time, I circulate the class and check student responses in each column. Some of the responses lead to rich conversations about the range of an angry bird being equivalent to the bird's horizontal displacement from the starting point. Student responses also start conversations about the slingshot being the starting point of reference and that the maximum height is measured relative to the grass or ground in the video game level. I choose this activity because the video game has become iconic and is easily recognized by students. I like Angry Birds as a model of motion because it allows students to organically define concepts like velocity components, range, and parabolic paths. 

I extend the bell-ringer activity because during exit slips last week, several students noted that the conversion from minutes to years was the most complex part of the week's lessons and were still puzzled by it. In this section of the lesson, I extend the original question to include converting the equivalent gaming time from years to the number of lifetimes if the gamer were an American. I like using whiteboards for this activity instead of notebooks because I want students to consider their peer's viewpoints and help each other through points where they were struggling. Students take images of the whiteboards so that each team member has an easily accessible copy of the information. While students spend ten minutes calculating the number of American lifetimes is equivalent to the daily number of minutes spent playing angry birds, I circulate with my checklist, take attendance and note if students are prepared for this activity, are actively participating or have any major logical stumbling blocks.

Using Simulations to Study Projectile Motion

25 minutes

After completing the bell-ringer extension, I spend ten minutes introducing the simulation below to students by projecting it on the interactive whiteboard at the front of the room. This section of the lesson focusses on using a simulation to study the factors that affect a projectile's motion. 

I first launch a projectile that misses its target by a wide margin such that its range is outside of the preset viewing window. I do this to demonstrate how to use the zooming buttons on the simulation. I also identify concepts that students discuss during the see-think-wonder activity that align with the simulation. I spend five minutes demonstrating how to correctly use the simulation tools including the movable target, the point of reference and the measuring tape.

I distribute a guided inquiry lab that uses this simulation, then I spend ten minutes circulating the room to ensure that students are able to run the simulation on the Chromebooks. During this portion of the lesson, pairs of students spend twenty minutes:

  • Comparing the mathematical and simulation models for factors that affect a projectile's motion like:
    • the horizontal and vertical components of velocity 
    • the time of flight
    • range 
  • Calculating the percent error between experimental and theoretical values of a projectile's range.
  • Constructing explanations for the effect of initial velocity and angle of release on a projectile's motion.

Creating Visuals on the Physics of Angry Birds

20 minutes

After students complete the first two sections of the lab, I distribute projectile motion Choice Boards for students to discuss and complete. This strategy focuses on giving students authority over the work product I use to assess their understanding of projectile motion. I choose this type of activity because I want to ensure that students are able to process the information they are learning through the inquiry lab correctly. I also want to see if students are able to resolve their earlier puzzles on the conversion from equivalent game time in minutes to years that I designed the whiteboard session to address. 

I ask students to spend 1-2 minutes completing a choice board sheet with all of their team member names and the choice of visual selected. I circulate the classroom and after 2 minutes I collect a choice board sheet from each team and make note of the team pairing and choices on my assessment sheet; students then begin working on their visuals. Students spend the remaining eighteen minutes creating projectile visuals using one of the options from the choice board. Click here to see an example student visual on projectile motion using angry birds as a model. I like this type of activity because I students choose the manner that I assess their understanding of projectile motion and tend to be more engaged in their learning process. 

Closure: Create A Headline on Pojectile Motion

5 minutes

This closure activity asks students to identify and describe their personal level of understanding of key ideas within the lesson. The writing prompt asks students, "If you were to write a headline for this topic or issue right now that captured the most important aspect that should be remembered, what would that headline be?" Students write their responses either in their notebooks on or our Edmodo wall.  I check student responses to this closure to determine whether students are proficient in the understanding of the connection between the information in the tutorial and the guided inquiry lab activities from this lesson.

I like this activity because students identify and share the portions of the lesson they feel are important and challenging as headlines. Student responses include: "You need to choose the right angle to hit a target with a projectile" and "Americans spend more than one lifetime's worth of minutes playing video games like angry birds". To wrap up this section of the lesson, I ask students to look at this tutorial that I post on the class Edmodo wall and complete the guided inquiry lab for homework.