Trying to find math inside everything else

The Cold War

In my first year teaching I came up with this activity for working with quadratic-linear systems, based in the Cold War and missile defense. It didn’t work as well as I hoped, mostly because it was too complicated, but I like the core of the idea. Maybe now, with more experience and the brainstorming power of the MTBoS, we can think of a way to make it work. But first, I’ll describe what .i actually did.

Students entered the room to find the desks rearranged – four big group tables, and the room split down the middle by a wall of desks, representing the “Iron Curtain.” Each student was then randomly assigned to one of four groups: US Missile Command, US Missile Defense, USSR Missile Command, and USSR Missile Defense. (Only one student, the son of the Georgian consulate, demanded to be switched from the USSR group to the US side.)

Each student then had two roles – one of the roles was their job on the team. Treasurer, secretary, chief engineer, etc. These roles were public. Their other roles were secret – they were things like Double Agent, Handler, FBI Agent, Innocent.

The idea was that each missile team was trying to build a missile that could hit the other country, while bypassing their missile defense. And the missile defense teams were trying to shoot down the missiles. The missiles were represented by quadratic equations and the missile defense by linear functions. But the best way to find out what the other side was planning is through espionage.

Of course, the thing they’ll probably learn is that the missile defense fails and everyone dies – we all lose the cold war.

Below are the files I made way back when. What are your ideas to make this workable?


Comments on: "The Cold War" (4)

  1. This is awesome and I need you to remind me when I’m home next week to look over this.

  2. Found a computer. So now I’ve read through, I think this is definitely awesome and I’m really jealous of your brain, but also super complicated. Parametric Equations and like 12 different roles seems like a lot for any class.

    For the math, can you make it more transformations based? So there’s just one quadratic equation and one linear equation that they have to transform. To add complexity, let them launch from two or three different bases. You lose the time factor which is cool, but fewer variables seems better. Then it’s still a system of equations project since they have to have a very specific point of intersection.

    I’m thinking back to games like the Battlestar Galactica board game where there’s just one mole screwing everything up for people. That might streamline the roles a little bit. Instead of an FBI investigator just have everyone be on the look-out. This could become error analysis as they try to decide if the person made a mistake by accident or is actually trying to screw them over. Keep the “You can only accuse one person” rule. I like the idea of Defector too, cause that would throw a wrench in the plans at the last minute.

    How were agents supposed to pass notes to the other side? Wouldn’t it be kind of obvious if they got up to pass a note? Or if that same one student has to go to the bathroom all the time? If they all had laptops or their phones they could surreptitiously email another student on the other side. I’m always nervous about having too many kids up and moving about in my room.

    • You’re right that I should definitely reduce the number of roles, although I like the idea of the triple agent passing false information.

      Transformations could definitely be a good idea, though, especially because I’ll need to review those towards the end of the quadratic unit anyway.

      The students did have to get up to communicate with the other team on their side, so there was some movement built it, but you’re right that it wasn’t enough. (I have no problem with kids moving about my room.) Some thoughts about how to add that – maybe make some sort of station thing that kids have to move around in. OR, ooh, maybe make the activity take places in small rounds over multiple days. So they could have chances to exchange information between classes.

  3. Oh, also, you could randomly have a “DATA BREACH” event in the room, and then each side gets to ask the other side a question about their graph, like in Polygraph. Something like “How high does your missle fly?” or something.

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