Middle School Students Use the Pythagorean Theorem and Trigonometric Ratios to Design Barbie Ziplines

By Ms. Melissa Benner, Middle School Mathematics Teacher

Students in Ms. Benner’s Honor’s Geometry class participated in a Barbie Zipline project upon completing their study of right triangles. In the project, students were tasked with designing three different zip lines that would be characterized as dangerous, boring, or just right.

They scaled down the launch height by a scale of 1:3 to explore different base distances within the classroom that could be used in their designs. Students then selected three different base distances and, using similarity and proportions, scaled up their design into a technical drawing for the actual ziplining experience on campus.

Given the launch height and the base distance, students used Pythagorean Theorem to calculate the distance Barbie travels and the amount of cable they would need. Trigonometric ratios were used to calculate the angles of depression and elevation of their designs. They also calculated the budget for their materials.

Students reached out to faculty and staff members to pitch their designs and budget, explaining the math concepts used for each design. Once approved, students could test their actual zipline designs on campus.