Zombies and Tennis Balls: Real-World Math Applications

Students in Mr. Malone’s math classes at Fairmont Private Schools — Anaheim Hills Campus spent a week working on special projects involving real-world math applications for Fairmont’s upcoming Open House season.

Students in Malone’s Algebra II class wrote equations and drew the graph of the flight of a tennis ball they threw, while students in Malone’s Pre-Calculus class were split into two groups. One group was to determine how long it would take zombies to take over a certain county, and the other group was tasked with finding the decline of a country’s population due to a zombie outbreak.

The interactive tennis ball activity, which allowed students to solve a quadratic problem in a real-world situation, provided a little extra excitement for them because they were able to leave the classroom setting and venture outdoors. Students threw tennis balls from a predetermined height and recorded the average time it took for the ball to hit the ground. After they collected their data, they then wrote formulas (in both standard and vertex forms) to calculate the height of the ball over time and graphed their equations.

Mr. Malone said he enjoys the tennis ball project because of its practicality and its ability to engage the students.

“I thought it was pretty [interesting] to see how all of the math variables — release point, distance, height — affect the path the ball takes through the air,” he said.

Through the zombie outbreak assignment, students were able to understand how exponential growth and decay would impact the world in an extreme situation in which a disease was rapidly spreading. Students then created exponential equations and graphed those equations. Like the tennis ball activity, Malone’s students were able to see how significant math can be in solving problems outside of the classroom and also improve their own comprehensions of the concepts they’ve been practicing.

“I learned different ways to solve a problem, and it helped me better understand lessons that I struggled on,” 8th grader Alexa L. said.

Both activities have proven to be beneficial to Malone’s students, and they appreciate the value his assignments bring to their studies in math — both in his class and beyond.

“[Mr. Malone’s assignments have] taught me new skills that can help me in the future — new thought processes and approaches to equations and how to better solve as well as break down equations and word problems,” 8th grader Jordan S. said.

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