I began with a short introductory lesson about the different parts of a parabola (axis of symmetry, roots, a-value…etc.) and how that is related to its equation. Then, I had students either find or take pictures of objects that resemble a parabola and model it with an equation on desmos.com. I followed up by asking students to answer a few basic equations: What is the equation of your parabola? What is something new you learned today?) and post their results on padlet. Some students found that objects they had chosen were modeled perfectly by a quadratic equation, while some were not. This shows that they can use their equations to make predictions (e.g. What will be the height of the building at distance x? When will the basketball hit the ground?).
My associate and I noticed that there was a tendency for students to find pictures with concave down parabolas. As a follow-up to this activity, you can challenge students to see of they can find anything in nature or architecture that can be modeled by parabolas that are concave up.