Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The Surface Area of a Service Dog

I was trying to think of a fun activity for this kid I am tutoring in seventh grade math.  We needed to work on some geometry, particularly surface area, but beyond that, I wanted to come up with something that would really make him think.  He is a bright kid and is quite capable of thinking, but prefers to avoid it as much as possible, at least when it comes to math.  He does not enjoy math, and I don't blame him, I don't enjoy it, either.  But I needed an activity that would engage him.

Also, he doesn't like to "show his work."  Which means, he doesn't want to write down his work, he prefers to solve math problems in his head rather than on paper.  Which would be fine with me, if he was good at it.  But he is not.  Plus, middle school math teachers typically want kids to show their work.  So I needed an activity that would require writing his work down.

And he rushes through his work, because he doesn't enjoy it and wants to get it over with fast.  Only then he  makes mistakes.  I have tried to point out that when he rushes and then makes a lot of mistakes and fails a test and has to retake it, that really backfires because instead of getting it over with fast, it ends up taking a lot longer.  And if he fails math for the year and has to take the whole class over again next year, that will really make it take a lot longer.  And since he doesn't enjoy it, it would really suck to have to do it all over again next year.  He agreed I had a point there.  But still tends to rush through his work in a disorganized way.

Last week I took a bunch of circles (round lids, to be precise) and had him measure them and calculate the circumference and area of each one.  I wanted to do something more interesting today.

So I came up with the idea of having him measure Isaac and calculate the surface area of my service dog.  It turned out to be the best tutoring activity idea I have ever had.

The kid looked at me like I was nuts when I first suggested it.  I shrugged and told him it was that or do some worksheets I'd brought.  He opted to measure the dog.

And then he got really into it.  He started sketching a diagram of Isaac, composed of shapes, without me suggesting it (although I was going to suggest starting that way, he just beat me to it).  And he was way more detailed than I would have been. 

We were on the floor beside Isaac, measuring each part of his body.  Well, mostly the kid measured.  My job was mostly telling Isaac when to stand up and when to sit back down, however the kid wanted him positioned to get the best measurements.  And he carefully wrote down each measurement.

Then, again without my suggesting it, the kid made a chart on which to record each of the calculations.  He had a space for the area of Isaac's ear, a space for the area of his knee joint, a space for the area of the tip of his tail.  He was being wonderfully organized.  I was amazed and impressed and kept telling him how awesome he was doing.

I told him I was going to email his teacher and tell her what we did and what a great job he did.  He asked me to take a picture of his sketch with all the measurements and his chart and everything to send to the teacher.  So I did.

I had to tell him twice when our session was over.  He was still working.  He was impressed with himself, I think.  And he should be.  He did great.

We did not have time to finish all the calculations, so he is going to finish them over the course of the week.  Next week when we get together, he will tell me the surface area of my service dog.

How neat is that?


  1. Replies
    1. It was really fun. And now my student has asked if he could figure out the volume of my service dog, as well.