Getting kids engaged in STEM can be a challenge - especially if they don’t have great math-esteem just yet. By using popular culture (superheroes in particular) teachers and parents can get their children involved in complex problem solving without breaking a sweat. A few years ago, physics professor, Jim Kakalios, contributed to an article to the PBS News Hour website which discussed this very topic. Professor Kakalios turned his love of comic books into fun ways to find the math and science behind our favorite superheroes powers.
In this blog, I’d like to share one of my most recent lessons based on the new Avengers Infinity War movie. If you’re not familiar with The Avengers, they are a superhero team (also called “the world’s mightiest heroes”) who have teamed up to fight evil and save the world. You can find out more about them and their story here.
In this lesson, my class joined the Avengers in their quest to protect all six Infinity Stones. I played Gamora from the Guardians of the Galaxy and presented the Avenger Math Challenge to my 7th grade class. Students competed in groups to try to secure the Infinity Stones before the villain, Thanos, could use them to destroy half the world’s population!
Here is the information about each station the students had to complete:
1) The Space Stone Challenge (The Tesseract)
The Space Stone gives the user power over space. Anyone holding the Space Stone can create a portal from one part of the universe to another. In the Marvel films, the Space Stone is hidden inside a blue cube called the Tesseract. The Tesseract makes its first appearance in “Captain America: The First Avenger”.
The only thing powerful enough to move space and lift Thor’s hammer is liquid vibranium. The first challenge in this lesson was to figure out how much vibranium was needed to raise Thor’s hammer. Students had to problem solve to determine the volume of the container with and without the hammer in place. Once the group determined the volume of vibranium needed, the answer would release the space stone.
In the next challenge, the students’ navigated their way through the angle measurements embedded in Spider-Man's web.
2) The Mind Stone Challenge (Loki’s scepter)
The Mind Stone allows the user to control the minds of others. We first see it as a blue orb in Loki’s scepter in 2012’s The Avengers. Whenever Loki touched someone with the scepter, he could control what they do. Thanos gave the Mind Stone to Loki, a hilarious but not particularly accomplished villain. Weird decision, Thanos.
In this challenge, students used the power of their mind to help Spider-Man find as many angle measurements as possible in his web. Students helped Spiderman activate the correct angles to create the perfect web to trap Thanos.
Continuing on, the powerful and kind-hearted T’Challa - ruler of Wakanda presented the next challenge.
3) The Power Stone
The Power Stone bestows upon its holder a lot of energy—the sort of energy that you could use to destroy an entire planet. Star Lord (Chris Pratt) accidentally discovers the stone in Guardians of the Galaxy. Ronan the Accuser steals it from him and threatens to wipe out an entire race.
In this third challenge, T’Challa feels as though there may be an epic power battle on his land in the near future and wanted to build more castles for protection. To earn the power stone, students had to use a merge cube to create a hologram model of this castle as a blueprint. The correct calculation released the stone. The merge cube app used for this task was called Dig. It is a free app that is compatible with the merge cube technology.
In the next challenge, the students discovered the surface area needed to dress Baby Groot.
4) The Reality Stone
The Reality Stone grants the user the power to manipulate matter. In Thor: The Dark World, the villain, Malekith (Christopher Eccleston), wanted to use dark matter called Aether to complete evil deeds.
In this challenge, Baby Groot wanted use the matter to create a new outfit made out of geometric solids. Students needed to determine the exact amount of matter in square centimeters that it would take to create clothes for Baby Groot.
Now, we can’t forget Iron Man! He was in the next challenge. Tony Stark is all about technology. But you can’t save the world if your measurements are off and your suit doesn’t work, can you?
5) The Soul Stone
We haven’t seen the soul stone in prior movies. The Soul Stone’s powers in the comics are somewhat vague and ever-changing. Basically the Soul Stone allows the user to control others “souls,” both living and dead. Soul Stone users have previously trapped souls in other dimensions and have brought dead people back to life.
For this task, Iron Man needs to train for his battle against Thanos. He constructed new gloves for his suit that used laser technology and Iron Man planned to used them to destroy his enemy. Before he attempted to test the gloves, he needed draw the outside boundary of the region on the ground so he could discover the exact spot to shoot from. Hitting the correct target would release the stone.
The last challenge of the lesson involved Ant-Man and our last stone, the Time Stone.
6) The Time Stone
The Time Stone grants its owner the power to rewind or fast-forward time. Stephen Strange discovered it in the Eye of Agamotto pendant in the library of Kamar-Taj, where he trained in the mystic arts in Doctor Strange.
To release the Time Stone, the students needed to help Ant-Man create a scale model of his two-story house out of legos. This way he could train, sleep, and eat in his home no matter what size he was and no matter what time interval (present, past, or future) he was sent into.
Needless to say, my class had a blast! Use math and you too can be a Guardian of the Galaxy! Building math esteem comes from getting students motivated and building their confidence. We are meeting kids on their turf, using their world to interact, and using fun to build their cognitive strength. That gives students confidence - and THAT builds their Math Esteem! And that’s what it’s all about!
If you’d like a copy of this lesson plan to save or print for your classroom, simply click this link.
Happy world-saving, superheroes in training!