I have seen posts about Barbie zipline on occasion over the past few years. I’ve avoided the lesson because it seemed like a lot of advance prep work and typically I don’t allow enough time plan this far ahead and work through constructing a zip line trial run to make sure it all works in advance. To keep it completely real, I also hadn’t seen any description or resources that I thought would fit my classes well. But I found myself approaching the end of a right triangle unit in geometry with 2 full block periods mapped on my unit plan labeled “Right triangle synthesis project – need to create.”
This is my first semester with a full time apprentice teacher, Eric, so I have help and some new motivation to make this a fun project for everyone this time too. This time of the school year, with short days, cold temperatures and no end in sight, it seems a lot of students appear pretty bored with school and many of the staff here are also struggling. I really just needed to lighten things up for the students and myself. The next logical thought: Queue Barbie and high quality pulleys.
Day 1 (80 minutes): How tall is the flagpole?
The set up
Randomly assign teams (I used pairs)
Introduce the activity with this fantastic video from Jed Butler:
We leaned heavily on Jed’s blog post and started with the activity guides included in his post, modifying them a little to incorporate his thoughts on how the lesson could be improved and our learning goals.
 I like having students select a team name because it forces them to talk to each other before they being working with content. It increases collaboration and breaks down barriers with a safe opening topic for conversation.
 Given the image below, use Mr. R to estimate the height of the flagpole. This led to students getting rulers and measuring on the image and a rich discussion on whether 4 inches is the same as 0.4 feet.

Discussion

 Eric: What are some ways we could find the height of the flagpole?
 student: climb up the flagpole?
 student: find the angle?
 Eric: What angle?
 student: The angle of elevation?
 Eric: Where does the angle of elevation go (sketches diagram)?
 student: Do we know how tall Ken is?
 student: Are we Ken in this situation?
 Eric: What can we measure?
 student: You could measure the distance from the flagpole to the person.
 student: We could use that angle tool thing that Mrs. B carries around.
 student: oooohhhhhh. yeah.
 Eric: How could we use that? What else would we need to measure? Would we all have the same measurements?
 student: The adjacent!
 student: The hypotenuse!
 student: oh! So we could use tangent.
 Eric: I want you to measure two different times, switching roles. Why do you think we should do it twice?
 student: To see if we get the same answer?
 Eric: Will we all get the same answer?
 Student: No.
 Eric Why not?
 student: Because it is not exact, but they should be really close.
 Eric: Work with your group and make a plan before we go outside.
 Eric: What are some ways we could find the height of the flagpole?
4. Measure & Calculate
Outside measurements, then back in for calculations, using this sheet from Jed Butler’s description as a guide.
Favorite question while measuring angles outside:
 student: Is it possible to get the same angle of elevation if may partner and I are different heights?
 Eric: What do you think?
5. Enter both of your calculated flagpole heights into the google form (accessed using a bit.ly address from their cell phones).
6. Justify flagpole height
Project the spreadsheet from the google form as students enter their flagpole heights.
 Eric: We don’t know the actual height of the flagpole. Here are all of your calculated heights. We need to determine what number to use as the height of the flagpole. What are some was to analyze data?
 students: average, mean, median, outliers, graphs, range…..
 Eric: Determine what height you believe the flagpole is and use one or more of these measures to justify your conclusion.
Day 2: Design a model and calculate angle of elevation, zipline length, and ground distance.
Excellent blog post, Lisa! Thanks!
Hmmmm… did you not have any problems with the gender roles in that video?
I am always concerned and concious of promoting stereotypes. I probably would have done it differently if I were creating the video.
Yeah! Maybe some of the students can make it differently or even without gender playing a role. They seem so creative. Thanks a lot for the reply! I’m really glad to read that 🙂
I agree with the gender roles issue. When making the video I should’ve had a better awareness in creating that. The idea to have students create a video or animation to go with it is a good idea too. I am doing this activity with teachers at my school site again next week, we won’t be showing the video. The intended story behind the problem didn’t really engage students so much as the mystery of the height of the pole, where to put the zipline, etc.
Lisa, I’m glad you found the post useful. And it looks like the use of student problem solving to work out the information needed is going well. Looking forward to seeing the day 2.
Wow! That apprentice teacher has clearly gotten a handle on guiding the class with questions.
[…] sat with their partners from Barbie zipline day 1 and we begin by reviewing the scenario and their calculated flagpole […]
[…] is the conclusion of a three day lesson applying right triangles. Here is day 1 and day 2. Eric is my apprentice teacher and he initiated this […]
Awesome post! Thank you Lisa.
[…] As an example: For many years, I heard about a barbie zipline lesson, but I never seriously considered incorporating it into my geometry class until I read a few descriptions of how it worked in other classes. Then I could adapt it to meet my learning goals. […]