Monday 7 April 2014

Pythagorean theorem - Success!  

I’m not sure if you remember but I had been slugging away at the pythagoraen theorem with the class.  To give you a feeling for the mood of the room when he was mentioned, the first thing one student said was:  “Pythgoras.  I hate the bastard”.
Well guess what – the last two lessons have been pretty damn awesome.  Here is what I have learned.

Use tree houses

Today I showed lots of pictures of tree houses.  You should Google image it because they rock.  They also almost all have supporting beams that we can lock into triangles and solve for the hypotenuse.  Got the learners interested without having to speak – simply put the picture up and then outlined the triangle with the marker.  Perfect.

Use the data projector to shine a grid onto the whiteboard. 

With a grid on the whiteboard the whole class can see exactly what is happening.  We can draw the shapes so everyone can see them and the grid functions to provide the measures.  So we can get down to conceptualising immediately. 


Okay – the class was distracted (they were ignoring me) so I needed something special.  Here it is:
Zombie Apocalypse!  You have survived a zombie apocalypse (for now) and all the other engineers have been eaten. You have to measure the length of a support beam on a bridge.  The bridge leads to safety.  I drew this scene on the board using the grid zombies and all.  The bridge was four meters long, and three metres above the water.  I had their attention immediately.
“Well, how long will the support beam need to be?  And hurry up because THE ZOMBIES ARE COMING!”

If that ain’t motivating what is?  It worked – I had instant engagement.


This is the unsexy secret of education.  Learning happens because of continuity.  You need to keep chipping away, using new ideas to keep it interesting.    Also – I have the privilege of working with some fantastic tutors who are working full time.  These guys are great and deal with all the flack, drama and behavioural issues.  They are also teaching and supporting the work that I’m doing so it is all adding up.  They deserve a medal- but will continue to do great work with little recognition.  


This happens to be the week that the students are sitting their assessments so they are motivated. They have questions and they want answers.  Perfect.

The result

Today – everyone got it.  In fact they were correcting me and hassling me for being slow.  Even the student who hates Pythagoras was finding the hypotenuse.  I handed out some problems in which learners had to find the length of the legs (the legs are the sides not the hypotenuse).  Victory.

The problem

None of this was taught via a problem solving approach.  It was very much a watered down version of chalk and talk.  So, chalk and talk works… but does it result in the kind of learning we want or have the learners simply memorised a method?  I’m not sure.

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