I call my activators, or opening activities, SPARKS. I made this one during our unit on geometry when my number rockets were trying to get a handle on the idea of angle classification. I projected the first slide (of just the table) and let it hang there for a bit so that students could have a little time to figure out what they were looking at and to wonder why they were looking at it. The second slide pretty much answers the second question. A few minutes were spent counting, going up to the screen to trace out claims, and, thank goodness, arguing. Students had been working with the words “acute,” “right,” and “obtuse,” so this was an opportunity for them to trade in those currencies. The task of visual analysis also required some perspective-taking and “space walking” around the table.
I liked this activity because it helped students move their minds into a good place for the the work that we were to be about. It’s not what I would ever call real-world problem solving, but it does at least beckon from that place, and bringing real into math class can sometimes be a good interest piquer, like, all of a sudden— a pinata. It was also the kind of simple story that granted easy access, so engagement was high and the noise was good noise.
I was surprised when a student said, “You mean, that’s a table?”. So then I knew that other kiddoes were thinking the same thing. One thing I learned here is not to overestimate my students’ savvy about the found objects that I might drag into class for them. Another is not to underestimate the power of simple things to make good stories.
One of my concerns here is what to make of the way my students and I spend our time together. On the one hand, I feel like I rushed out of this SPARK too soon; that by staying longer we could have fanned these small arguments into a nice blaze of reasoning. This is mathematics after all. But on the other hand, Otto, what about our
relationship subject content? So yeah, I have a lot to learn about balance, momentum, and weight— the physics of teaching.
I think this activity is a fair spokesmodel for the sometimes awesome resource (and frequently behemoth distraction) that is the potential of web-powered social entanglement. I discovered this table via Pinterest.