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Thursday, July 23, 2009

A Lesson Plan Using a Virtual Manipulative

This post at dy/dan got me thinking about this thing from Utah State's Library of Virtual Manipulatives.

Pretty cool, right? A way to play with volume that avoids water fights. Love it. I used this in a remedial geometry class several years ago. It was fun for the kids for about five minutes. We merely used it to poke at the edges of our intuition. I didn't really know how to exploit it.

It raises a compelling question for teachers: there are some really good digital resources out there, but how do you best use them in a classroom to enhance learning? I'd like to use it this year when I teach Geometry, but I need to write an effective lesson around it.

The barest outline of a plan:

1. Playtime. Let kids slide the height thing and push the buttons, or be teacherbot and do what they instruct me to do. Solicit guesses for heights. Have kids verbalize why they think their guess is correct. Test to see how close they are.

2. Start talking about how you would calculate the new height. Go back to universal problem solving techniques that you should be hitting over and over again. What is the given information? What do you want to find? What stays the same? Encourage/coach them to do this with the rectangular prisms. They should be able to find numerical solutions easily. Develop and write on the board an equation involving equal volumes with an unknown height and solve it. Test to see if it works in the virtual manipulative. Have them calculate a few more.

3. Go through the same procedure with cylinders, then cones. It's going to look different depending on if they already know formulas, what age the kids are, what level, etc.

It wants for structure. I could develop a worksheet and break out the laptops. I'm not a huge fan of many worksheets, because I think they shift the focus from the problem-at-hand to "guess what to write in the blank." (I'm also not a fan of the laptops.) I could try to keep it as a large group discussion, but that could easily turn into me talking to 2-3 kids while everyone else zones out.

What would you do with this?