My goal for my Geometry classes today was to be as mathematically productive as possible, given that it was the last day of classes before break. The plan was to review the last assignment, take the quizlet (what my department calls formative assessment), do an extension problem, then make a Koch Snowflake if there was still time.

The extension problem was the “Shortest Path Problem” which I highly recommend.

It turned out to fit perfectly with what we’re learning right now. It also sparked some rich conversations and good reasoning, and everyone could at least venture a guess, even if they didn’t really know what to do to figure out the exact shortest path.

This plan was carried out differently in each of my three Geometry classes. In the first class, I reviewed several problems and concepts, kids followed along, asked questions, the usual. They took the quizlet. I passed out a half-sheet with the scenario typed out on it. I didn’t include a diagram, thinking that the kids should make the diagram. That was a mistake because the wording isn’t exactly clear, so some kids drew the tent and camper on opposite sides of the river and all sorts of random things. So I had to draw the diagram up on the board for everyone, which slightly killed the magic, but at least we were all on the same page.

A few kids calculated the distance of a path, but not the shortest, and then wanted to be done. I needed a way to motivate them to keep working. In a rare moment of brilliance, I decided to keep score. I announced “Jesse found a path that’s 1,518 feet, can anyone beat that?”. Then I’d write the student’s name and their shortest path on the board. It became a competition to see who could find the shortest path. I let things linger too long in my first class because a few students were really getting into it and asking wonderful questions like, “how do you know that’s 450 feet” and “can you show me how you got that”. So unfortunately several kids had checked out, but at least everyone did something with the problem.

In my other two classes, I skipped the homework review and went straight to the quizlet because there was no way they were going to sit and listen to me blah blah blah about their homework problems on dilations and scale factors. In my first afternoon class, student behavior dictated that decision. In my second afternoon class, I asked them what they wanted to do, and almost everyone said, “let’s just take the quizlet”. So in those classes, there was plenty of time to do both the shortest path problem and the Koch Snowflake.

This time I just asked them to read the problem on their own, and then I read it aloud and drew the diagram as I read so everyone started out with the correct diagram. In one class several kids said they didn’t know what to do to get started, so I said “guess and check” or “if you were the camper, where would you go if you wanted the shortest distance”. This was an excellent starting point for those kids.

The snowflakes were fun too. We saw the Sierpinski Triangle this year, so I brought that up again as a reminder of what a fractal is, but then said that the fractal they were about to make was going to be more holiday-themed. I gave everyone some triangle graph paper to help them with their triangles. At first I thought maybe I’d have them construct the equilateral triangle, but using the graph paper was a good call.