Friday, 22 July 2016

How a rich context can make a difference.

There is nothing like a bit of mystery to get Year 10 boys interested. 
Ricky Pedersen, HoF De La Salle College and his Year 10 class looked at a fake crime scene and attempted to solve a murder mystery.
This was their second lesson on solving for unknown angles in a right angle triangle. How the lesson unfolded:-

1. Ricky created a hook:
Before the students got into the classroom they noticed that something was different. Ricky had cordoned off an area of his classroom and set up a crime scene.

Students could see something worthwhile was going to take place in this lesson.
Ricky was bombarded with question
  • What happened?
  • What are we doing? 
  • Why is the room different? 
Their task: to collectively find out where each blood drop originated from and how the murder took place.

2. They made connections:  

Together they looked at a diagram of a blood drop hitting the floor and recapped their trigonometric ratio’s.

They discussed what would happen to a drop of blood as it hit the floor and what might happen if the angle changed.

This was helped through viewing a clip from the TV show, Dexter, about a consultant who analyses blood spatter

They unpacked a small concept covered in class and applied it to a foreign but interesting context.
Students had no prior knowledge of forensics in terms of experience but they were able to form meaningful connections between the scenario and the mathematics.

3. Practical learning took place through teamwork:

In groups students measured the length and width of a “blood splatter” and calculated angles. Once they were satisfied that they had the correct angle, they used a protractor and piece of string to track the trajectory of the blood drop just as they had seen in the video clip. Once each group had completed this task, they had 8 pieces of string tracking to 4 points of origin.

These students now have a shared experience from which to draw on.

4. They made sense of their findings:
In Ricky’s opinion this was probably the best part. Students discussed how many stab wounds there were, what the height of the person would have been and where they would have been stabbed. As a class they reasoned how the crime would have taken place and why they couldn’t determine where one blood drop came from.
Once they had a version of the events that the class was satisfied with, the students felt it was important that they acted it out!

This task was open ended. There was no predetermined solution. Students could be as imaginative as they wanted. Students had the opportunity to predict, discuss and justify their own ideas about the solution.  They also had to reach consensus. What Ricky deemed important was that when providing their solution, the students linked to the context. It was no surprise that this this came easily to them after having been immersed in the situation.

Ricky pondered, should we be aiming to engage our students with rich meaningful contextual questions or do they just need to have rigour and practice?
He wondered what his students will remember 3 weeks later, will it be how to nicely set out their working to solve for an angle or will it be how they measured the width and length of a blood drop and found the angle of trajectory from a stab wound?

What are your thoughts?

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