Jo Boaler writes: Can I think of a question that students can talk about in groups to get them interested in the ideas before they are taught? For example, in a Calculus lesson, a teacher could ask students to think about how you would calculate the volume of a lemon before learning the formal methods of Calculus.

How do you begin a lesson? In my in-service teaching days, I would motivate my activity by first “setting the stage” (launch phase). The details depend on what you want to accomplish. If you are an elementary teacher then the “what do you notice? What do you wonder?” activities are good ways to start a lesson. For older students one of Jo Boaler’s suggestion as an alternative to starting with a lecture is to find the volume of a lemon.

But does this launch pass the “who cares” test? Does anyone really care what the volume of the lemon is? Probably not. But this as a motivator in the hands of a creative teacher can be magic. I remember asking the same question to a group of marginally motived 6th graders during a chapter in their text on volume and it flopped completely. After they told me that the lemon was yellow, they wondered what would happen if they threw it against the wall. Lemon juice was the response. After that they just became silly and I couldn’t get them back to thinking about volume. I realized after the lesson I should have gone with their flow and magically brought it back to a productive conversation. It was a learning moment for me. After that “failure” I realized that some launches were better than others depending on the personality of the class. Two that come to mind from my collection:

The Road Sign Problem (The problem with word problems)
13×7=28 (A video of Lou Costello showing Bud Abbott that it’s true.)

I have a collection of activities that all start with an interesting launch, followed by an activity that the teacher does together with the students and debriefed with the students sharing what they learned.

Ihor