Playing with Pythagoras

Guest Post Written By: Natalie Hunter

Young kids sometimes have a hard time understanding is the Pythagorean Theorem. Fortunately, it's very easy to visualize with squares put on each side of the triangle on a sheet of graph paper. A square and B square put together are the same size as C square! Kids will find this fun and easy to prove all by themselves. Getting them to understand the importance of this theorem can be a little harder though. Even adults can often remember the equation of a2+b2=c2 from their younger years, but ask them to calculate a hypotenuse and they just may throw up their hands.

For this reason, it's important to teach kids more than just squares on a right triangle, and one way to do this is to switch up the shapes. Pythagoras's theory has been proven to be true for any three figures of the same shape, whether squares, polygons, or even fish. Demonstrate it first, have students pick a favorite simple shape, and then give everyone some right triangles, some graph paper to cut their shapes out with, and calculators to play around with. Circles are very visually appealing and can be used to demonstrate the versatility of this theorem, but if you do not think your students can handle dealing with pi yet use other shapes instead.

Another fun exercise can be done with the whole class. For this demonstration several books, a pen, a ruler, and paper will be needed for the class, or smaller groups within the class if they can be kept on task. The students should line the books up to form the shape of a capital “L” so that a right angle is formed. The lines formed by the books should be different lengths. After the students have lined up the books, they will need to measure the sides and note how long each side was. Make sure everyone is using the same unit of measure! After the students have measured the sides they will need to add the squares of sides together, which they can do either with a calculator or by themselves if they've already learned multiplication. For most classes, calculator will be needed to calculate the square root of the result so they can find the hypotenuse, as usually the Pythagorean Theorem is taught before deriving square roots in longhand. Once they have solved the equation, have them use the ruler to measure from one tip of the books to the other and then find out if they got the correct answer.

There are also story books and videos that the parent or teacher can use in the classroom to help students learn about the Pythagorean Theorem. If the children are in online school, there are also online games teachers can give students to play with to learn this important theory. Using demonstrations, exercises, and games can truly help children grasp the Pythagorean Theorem. Visually experiencing a theorem can make the difference for a child between using an equation and understanding an equation. The Pythagorean Theorem can be a tricky concept to learn, and some students will need to learn it in different ways than other children. The next time you're thinking about teaching Pythagorean Theorem, consider one of these fun games to help them learn, understand, and enjoy math.