Thursday, January 29, 2015

Math is always better when you do more than just WATCH

It is easy to think that when students watch us do problems that they get it.  They are usually concentrating and thinking about what we are saying, but it often does not sink in.  I am trying to get my students to DO MORE themselves.  This time it has to do with making a Ferris Wheel and using it to help solve Trigonometry problems.   Yes, it does take time out of class to do this.  I think it is well worth it to invest the time now, so that they can recall it later.

This unit we are covering the beginnings of Trigonometry.  Working with the Trig fundamentals is tricky.  Students often get confused.  So a few years ago we introduced the unit called "High Dive" where a fictitious scenario of a person being released from a Ferris Wheel into a moving tub of water.  (Key Curriculum Press)  Most importantly it gives the students a visual handle on the basic Trig ideas.  This year I extended this to include a physical handle on Trig.  We made Ferris Wheels out of pipe cleaners.  It turned out really well.  Seeing the test scores from this year, I'm confident that the students did even better than last year.  Here is what we did.

There is a Ferris Wheel whose center is 65 feet off the ground.  The Ferris Wheel has a radius of 50 feet.  The Ferris Wheel is moving at a rate of 1 revolution per 40 seconds. The diver is on the Ferris Wheel which always moves in a clockwise direction and will start from the 3 o'clock position. Here are some questions we explored.
1.  When will the Diver be at the highest position?  What is that height?
2.  What is the angular speed of the diver?  What is the linear speed of the diver?
3.  Map the divers height for 1 revolution of the Ferris Wheel.
4.  What height will the Diver be after 14 seconds?
5.  If there was a 30 fence hiding the front of the Ferris Wheel, what percent of the time is the Diver ABOVE the fence?
6.  How long does it take to go from the 3 o'clock position to the 8 o'clock position?

So with our Ferris Wheels IN OUR HANDS, we went through many of these questions while moving the wheel to match our questions.  The students made the Ferris Wheel with their own hands.  It was a homework assignment.  I gave them 8 pipe cleaners and 2 Popsicle sticks and they had to make a working Ferris Wheel.  They also had to make a place where the diver was on the Ferris Wheel.  Kind of like a marker.

Here is one of my students talking about her experience with the Ferris Wheel.

One Student made an unbelievable Ferris Wheel.  He got his own piper cleaners.

I know I learn better when I can touch it, feel it, manipulate it and visualize it.  



JFairbanks said...

Very cool. I will be using this. Thanks for sharing

Contact Me said...

Mr. Sladkey,
Hi! My name is Janelle Owens. I am student at the University of South Alabama enrolled in EDM310. We are creating a class blog. I will be summarizing my visits, and will publish my comments to my blog on February,8,2015.
I really enjoyed reading your blog on "Math is always better when you do more than just WATCH". I agree with you that students can learn better when they: feel it, manipulate it, and visualize it. Especially with math, I feel that students can comprehend the concept better when they use a manipulative and are actively engaged. I plan on using manipulative s to help teach my students. Thank you for sharing.
Janelle Owens

Class Blog Spot

Email Janelle Owens,


Anonymous said...


This is a really cool idea. I am a fellow math teacher and I appreciate you taking the time to share this. Especially the idea about the padlet.


Neils Barringer said...

Hi! I was wondering if you had directions on how to build the ferris wheel! And maybe your lesson plan....this looks awesome

Dave Sladkey said...

I did not tell the students how to make the Ferris wheel. I only told them they could use 8 pipe cleaners and two Popsicle sticks. It had to be working. They did the rest on their own. It was amazing how creative they got. Thanks for the comment.

Santana Mullins said...

Hello Mr. Sladkey! My name is Santana Mullins, and I am a student in EDM 310 at the University of South Alabama. I will be summarizing my visits to your blog with a post to my blog on March 12, 2015. My blog URL is and our class blog is First, I would like to say great post! I love the idea of making ferris wheels out of piper cleaners to learn some basic Trig ideas. I sure could of used this idea in high school ha ha. I concur that students most times are so concentrated on what teachers are explaining that things just don't sink into their brains. Students tend to learn better visually than reading and writing. Math is tough as it is, and I love how you used a manipulative and project based learning in a way in order to keep your students engaged to DO MORE. Hope the test scores are great! Thanks for sharing!