Engaging students: Parabolas

In my capstone class for future secondary math teachers, I ask my students to come up with ideas for engaging their students with different topics in the secondary mathematics curriculum. In other words, the point of the assignment was not to devise a full-blown lesson plan on this topic. Instead, I asked my students to think about three different ways of getting their students interested in the topic in the first place.

I plan to share some of the best of these ideas on this blog (after asking my students’ permission, of course).

This student submission comes from my former student Lisa Sun. Her topic, from Algebra II: parabolas.

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How has this topic appeared in high culture?

Parabola is a special curve, shaped like an arch. Any point on a parabola is at an equal distance from a fixed point (the focus) and a fixed straight line (the directrix). Today, I will be presenting the parabolas’ unique shape to the class. Parabolas are everywhere in our society today. Students just don’t know it yet because no one has informed them. Parabolic structures can be seen in buildings, mosaic art, bridges, and many more. One that I’m going to share with the class is going to be roller coasters. Similar to this image below:


This specific roller coaster is The Behemoth. It is a steel coaster located in Canada’s Wonderland in Vaughan, Ontario, Canada. I will first present this photo to the class and ask the following:

  • What do you notice that’s repeating in this roller coaster?
  • Do you think you’ve seen this similar structure anywhere else? Where?

–Present definition of Parabola–

  • Does this roller coaster have any parabolic structure? Where?

With these guiding questions, I want the students to be familiar with how a parabola looks like and that we can see them in our real world other than school.

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How has this topic appeared in the news?


This link above is a recent article from Science News on how an engineer from the University of Warwick discovered how to build bridges and buildings to enhance the safety and long durability without the need for repair or restructuring by the use of inverted parabolas. Using inverted parabolas and a design process called “form finding”, engineers will be able to take away the main points of weakness in structures. I believe this is a remarkable discovery that must be shared with students. Math is truly used in our everyday life and can definitely benefit the society today by how fast our technology is advancing.

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How can technology be used to effectively engage students with this topic?

Prezi favors visual learning and works similar to a graphic organizer or a mind map. It helps students to explore a canvas of small ideas then turning it into a bigger picture or vice versa. Prezi is a great tool to maintain an interactive classroom and creates stunning visual impact on students keeping them engaged in the lecture.


Above is a link of a Prezi presentation of parabolas in roller coasters. This is a great example as to what I would create for my students to provide them the information of a parabola.









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