Math Superheroes

Math and superheroes go together like Batman and Robin. If you’re using a superhero theme for your classroom, take advantage of that. Math class? Make it your ongoing theme.

There’s a ready-made bulletin board set:

Online resources:

  • Math problems from the Superheroes Memebase — project them when students come in for class or post them on the bulletin board, and see who can figure them out. If your students get inspired, ask them to create some more to fill up the bulletin board, or the unit!
  • Batman addition game
  • Superhero Subtraction

Now think of all the math concepts you can cover with superheroes:

Speed

  • Superman is faster than a speeding bullet. Just how fast is that? The answer is more complicated than you might think, and you can see the wide range of speeds in a hypertextbook chart on the subject. The fastest speed offered there is 5,000 feet per second. Your class will need to get a good mental image of how far 5,000 feet is (Google Earth can help here) in order for this to mean much. Challenge them to convert feet per second to miles per hour (an online calculator makes it easy) for a more familiar calculation. As it happens, someone designed a hypersonic airliner that is expected to go just that fast. Once students get a clear mental image of how fast a speeding bullet is, ask them whether Superman is fast enough to accomplish the feats he’s called upon to do in the movies or comic books.
  • The Flash can run at 10 times the speed of light. The speed of light is the constant (C) in the famous equation E=MC2. Nothing is faster than the speed of light — except the Flash. Divide the class into teams and have each team create word problems based on this fact: how long would it take the Flash to get from one location in the world to another, for example. (Again, Google Earth is a great resource for this activity.)
  • The Superhero Database has a list of the superheroes who have super speed among their superpowers. Have students do research to find the speed of each hero (divide the list among the class) and graph their speeds.

Size

  • The Superhero Database gives the heights and weights of more superheroes than you’ve ever heard of. Use the data to create charts and graphs. Compare the sizes of superheroes with those of ordinary people. Here are the U.S. government figures for Americans age 20 and up:

Men:

  • Height (inches):  69.4
  • Weight (pounds): 194.7

Women:

  • Height (inches):   63.8
  • Weight (pounds):  164.7

The Superhero Database uses a different format for its data. For example, here are the stats of Shrinking Violet:

  • Height: 5’6 // 168 cm
  • Weight: 120 lb // 54 kg

As a class, determine what format to use in preparing the superhero/ordinary people chart, and convert the data so it will be consistent. This is a great time to discuss why it’s important to do this when comparing information.

  • The same database lists superheroes who are able to change size as one of their superpowers. Challenge students to decide whether this would be a useful superpower in their lives. Have them calculate the size they’d like to be able to achieve, since this varies from one superhero to another, and write a paragraph explaining how they’d use this power.

Geometry

  • One of the most famous superhero math party tricks is the Batman Equation which shows how to plot the Batman logo. The link takes you to a very thorough explanation of how this works. Can your students create an equation that makes a superhero log, either a familiar one or one they make up?
  • Angle Man was a villain, an enemy of Wonder Woman, who had a tool called the Angler which was able to  bend space, warp perceptions, and move people through time and space. It’s not clear to us how the Angler works, so it looks like a great opportunity for creativity. Challenge students to figure out how angles could be used in this way, and to draw a comic book style picture of the Angle Man using his Angler. If students are using protractors, they can measure and label the angles they draw.

We can’t leave this subject without mention of a favorite book of ours, now in its second edition: The Physics of Superheroes: Spectacular Second Edition by James Kakalios. This book should give you lots of ideas for ways to explore math with superheroes for secondary level students.

Check out some posts with more superhero ideas for your math superhero classroom:

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