Where’s Joey? Engaging Students in Real World Problem Solving

As an instructional coach, one of my favorite things to do is help a teacher take an activity they have always done and “tweak” it for optimal learning. I love the partnership that forms when I can sit down with a content expert and make magic happen 🙂 Last spring I had the opportunity to work with an Honors Algebra 2 teacher who wanted to challenge her students. The class had been working on formulas related to triangulation – something I vaguely remembered from my own high school experiences, but wasn’t very savvy with myself. My first question to the teacher was, “How is triangulation useful in the real world?” She laughed a bit and claimed that is the question her students always ask too. I replied, “Well, let’s show them, then!”

The teacher explained to me that triangulation formulas are helpful for pinpointing locations. One example she gave me was the way cell phone tower activity can be used to track locations from which calls are made. Well, it just so happened that I had been watching a fabulous show on Fox called, “The Following,” and inspiration struck. Take a look at the video we made to kick off the assignment. I do not own the rights to the clip from the show, and give full credit to Fox and its’ affiliates for the scene.

In order to create this experience for the students, I used Google Earth to find a white farmhouse located in the middle of nowhere. We located the addresses for three actual cell phone towers that were a short distance from the farmhouse. The content expert took some time to show me how we could solve the problem by translating the addresses into latitude and longitude coordinates, which would be workable in the formulas students had been using. Rather than giving the students these coordinates, though, we decided to let them figure out that step.

So, after viewing the video, students were handed the addresses for the three cell phone towers and were told to use the internet to figure out where to go from there. The struggle that ensued over the next few days, not only for the students, but for the teacher as well, was phenomenal to witness and be a part of. To read more about the “Where’s Joey?” problem, check out these other blog posts:

Facilitating Healthy Struggle in the Classroom
What if students fail? Assessing more than just the “right answer” in a math classroom

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