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Igniting The Passion

by Aviva Dunsiger

Today was the best math class ever! We’re just starting our geometry unit, and the students are learning about triangles. In class today, the students were put into groups, and each group was given a string with 12 knots in it: one knot every 10 centimetres. The groups had to create as many different triangles as they could with this string. After creating their triangles, they had to draw them on sticky notes for a sorting activity. In addition to the string, each group was given a small, square tile, which many students assumed would be good for a right-angle triangle. Given these tools and the instructions to make triangles, the students were quickly off in their groups working!

It was amazing watching the students as they worked in their partner groups. Some students chose to work on the floor or on a desk and lay the string out. Some students chose to hold the string in the air, and work with both sets of hands to create their triangles. A few groups even used other objects (e.g., an eraser, a pencil case, or an iPhone) to hold down one or two ends of the string, so that they could manipulate the rest of it.

This is when the great math talk started. Students started to ask each other, Is this a triangle? How do you know? They started to question what the word, “triangle,” really means, prompting some interesting wonders: I wonder if a triangle can have rounded corners. I wonder if a triangle can have rounded corners and straight corners together. I wonder if there really is a limit to how many triangles we can make with this piece of string. Students were discussing these questions together. They were using the Internet to try and figure out more information, and then they were applying what they learned as they made their creations. Students were excited about math!

I continue to wonder why all of my students had such a positive attitude about today’s math lesson. Why were they so eager to solve problems, share information, and collaborate together? Maybe they enjoyed the time to play. As they worked with that string, they figured out a lot about triangles, but all through exploration. Maybe by taking away the pencil/paper task, they were given an opportunity to wonder and explore more about math. Maybe we need to create an environment where math, wonder, and communication can all intersect.

You may be interested in Moving From the Oral to the Written in Math.

How do we create and sustain this environment? How do we give students an opportunity to become passionate about math, while also ensuring that they learn and share what is required? 


Aviva Dunsiger taught Junior Kindergarten to Grade 2 for 11 years before moving to Grade 6 this year. She’s passionate about using technology in the classroom to support student learning, and she’s presented on this topic numerous times both online and offline.

She enjoys maintaining her blog, Living Avivaloca: My Many Musings on Life and Learning. Aviva’s reflective writing about her professional practice inspires communication between educators, administrators and parents.  


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