On a Tuesday morning at Marion County Middle School, 7th grade students in Rebecca Wood’s 1st period science class held Barbie dolls with a series of interconnected rubber bands attached to her ankles while they peered over the balcony from the school’s second floor at some of their classmates below.
It was an activity focused on kinetic and potential energy, but with the energetic shouts and excitement from students, it seemed like anything other than a typical lesson.
“Sometimes there’s an issue with the noise level because of their excitement,” Wood admitted.
Students in Rebecca Wood's science class work on their Barbie bungee experiment.
In groups, the students estimated how many rubber bands would allow the doll to drop near the floor without touching (not unlike bungee jumping) before being pulled back up by the rubber bands.
After students made their test drops, they would regroup, either adding or subtracting rubber bands from the string they had put together. Students on the first floor would relay information about how close the doll came to floor.
In the previous day’s lesson, the class collected data by dropping the dolls from a height of about 200 cm. They used that information to make estimates for the number of rubber bands needed to “bungee” the dolls from the balcony to the floor below, which they estimated to be a 10 meter or 1,000 cm drop.
Students used data gathered from the previous lesson to make predictions.
“The most valuable part of this lesson is seeing the potential energy being released because of where we’re positioned,” Wood said.
Wood collaborates with fellow science teacher Toby Tungate on this and other experiments at MCMS.
The activity also included a few casualties; two Barbie dolls had been put out of commission (their heads came off, to be exact), and Wood predicted there to be more throughout the day as other classes worked through the experiment.
Students who would have science class in the afternoon would also discuss how using rubber bands that had been stretched out throughout the day would affect the results.
Back in the classroom, Wood reviewed the point of the activity.
“If we did not learn, then I wasted your time,” Wood said, before a student in her class interjected: “You didn’t waste our time!”
The class went on to discuss the experiment, its applications to the world outside of the classroom, and the class’s next steps: looking at air resistance using parachutes.
“It was awesome,” student Brayan Flores said of the Barbie bungee experiment. “We snapped a few [of the dolls], but it was cool [....] we learned quite a bit.”