Paper Plates & Fuzzy Sticks

As the school year enters fourth quarter, teachers are blessed/cursed by the arrival of nice weather. For those of us in the northeast, we rejoice the end of winter and celebrate the boost to the spirit from the new spring. But along with that comes the battle to keep the students on task and motivated as they can sense that the end of the school year can't be that far away. I have an extra challenge as my classroom looks out on the tennis court and track, and I am always competing with teens enjoying gym class for the attention of my students.

One of the last units that we cover in Geometry is our unit on Circles. Having taught Geometry for a number of years, I have always been on the lookout for new ways to engage students with the many terms, concepts, and relationships that come with the Circle unit.

While it is always easy for me to immediately go to the Chromebooks and have the students use Desmos and/or GeoGebra to investigate, I decided to go low-tech (again) this year. I try to balance the tech in class with physical engagement.

So let me explain the (again)... A few years ago, I got the idea to use hula hoops to model the circle part relationships. I picked up some hula hoops at the dollar store, drilled holes in the hoops 45° apart. Then I put paper clips in the holes to serve as hooks for rubber bands. The rubber bands then act as the chords. But they don't act well as secants, tangents and radii. For these parts, I usually drew them. However, they served their purpose as good models for the circle part relationships. The hoops were low-tech and offered students a break from near constant use of technology.

This year, I have developed an interest in fuzzy sticks (aka "pipe cleaners"). I've used them with straws to construct a variety of geometric solids. I've also used them for other geometric models. They are inexpensive, colorful, versatile, and easy to manipulate.

Then one morning, as I was considering the start of my circle unit, I was stuck with the idea of the paper plate and fuzzy stick models. Here is the set up:

  • cheap paper plates
  • hole punch
  • fuzzy sticks
  1. The cheap paper plates have 72 ridges, making them 5° apart. I punched holes 6 ridges (30°) apart. I also punched a hole in the center.
  2. Using a Sharpie, I labeled the holes A - L and the center hole O.
  3. I also drew one central angle and labeled it as 30°.
So then I started using the fuzzy sticks to represent radii, diameters, chords, tangents, and secants, and I realized that these very low-tech tools could be used to model and explore the many circle concepts and relationships.

After the first day of introducing basic arc, segment/line, and angle terms of circles to the students, I then gave each student a plate, fuzzy sticks, and a card with a term. Their challenge was to model the term on the card. After the models were made, the students surrendered their card and the cards were then redistributed. The students then walked around the classroom (aka "gallery walk") and try to match the card to the model. When finished, the students returned to their seats to check the card that was placed at their model. If it was not correct, then we worked together to find the correct model. Students also found that some cards could be placed at multiple models.

I got such a great response from Twitter about it and I think it was a successful low-tech lab that will find a special place in my Geometry lesson repertoire.  

As always, thank you for reading, and please contact me if you have any questions and/or suggestions!


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