Thursday, February 9, 2017

Cliff Jumping and Absolute Value

I love to show this video of Laso Schaller's world record jump of 58.8 meters in Maggia, Switzerland.
I use it when we start our unit on absolute value and it sparks a nice discussion about the distance above and below zero. I show the video and then ask the students what they would want to know before they jumped off the cliff. They usually come up with some very interesting comments including how deep the water is and how far down you will go after you hit the water. Using these questions I guide the discussion towards the total distance traveled by drawing a diagram on the board with a vertical number line showing positive numbers above zero and negative numbers below zero. I use 192 ft (58.8 m) for the top of the cliff and -48 ft. for the depth of the water needed for the jump. I got these numbers by using the following information about the depth of water needed for a safe jump based on the height of the jump.

(Depending on time constraints, I could leave off the numeric expression and ask the students to figure out what the depth of the water must be for this jump.)

This discussion helps provide the mathematical motivation for absolute value and why positive numbers remain positive and negative numbers become positive when we are measuring distance. And then at this point I offer the mathematical notation and definition of absolute value.

Here are some still shots from the video:

The video replays the jump several times and shows different angles and information with each replay. For some of the replays, additional information about the jump overlays the video including the height of the top of the cliff as it is compared to the Leaning Tower of Pisa and also a time lapse of the speed and time of the Laso Schaller throughout the jump.