Looking for ideas for teaching the Pythagorean Theorem? I’m so excited to share with you some of my favorite activities for this topic. This is one of my favorite things to teach all year, and it is probably my favorite geometry topic of all time. Pythagorean Theorem is a very visual concept and students can be very successful with it. This list of 13 Pythagorean Theorem activities includes bell ringers, independent practice, partner activities, centers, or whole class fun. Pick and choose what you like and please share in the comments if you find something you love:
- NFL and Pythagorean Theorem
- Who Wants to be a Millionaire Video
- Shmoop Video
- QR Code Game
- Doodle Notes
- SCOOT with Task Cards
- Knockout Game
- Explain it to an Alien Exit Ticket
- Illustrative Mathematics
- Braining Camp Free Manipulatives, Lesson, Problems, and Challenge
- Art Project for Pythagorean Theorem
Videos to start a lesson
This is a 4 minute video that shows how the Pythagorean Theorem is relevant in football. I am a huge football fan and I love bringing math into the real world. The students were very engaged in this video. You could hear some of them when they saw a big hit. Some of the kids who don’t know a lot about football may have been a little lost, but it still was a great way to look at the Pythagorean Theorem in action. We related this to soccer, which is also popular among my students. The concepts they talk about in this video can actually be related to most sports. After watching, you can ask students to explain how the Pythagorean Theorem can be applied to another sport.
I use this video for an anticipatory set after students have a background with the theorem. It gets them talking about the Pythagorean Theorem, and some kids who don’t normally contribute much are engaged.
Who Wants to be a Millionaire? Video Clip
This short video shows a contestant on Who Wants to be a Millionaire who lost $15,000 because he didn’t know the Pythagorean Theorem. 8th graders love to see situations where they are smarter than adults. What a great way to start a daily lesson. I think when you watch it you kinda feel like you could have saved this person from losing their money. This is a great anticipatory set and a real life example of math. Questions you could ask students to answer during the video:
- How could he have used the Pythagorean Theorem to answer this question?
- Why do you think the audience also chose the wrong answer?
- What is another example of when not knowing math can contribute to you losing money?
This can be an excellent way to start a class period on day 3 or 4 of your unit. What conversations will it start with your students? How many of your students will figure it out?
This Shmoop video uses a silly story about Peter Pan and his shadow to illustrate the Pythagorean Theorem. If you have not used Shmoop videos before in your class, you should know that they are a little silly and quirky. Most 7th and 8th graders seem to appreciate the ridiculousness in these videos. I love to use them as anticipatory sets and this specific one is a quick review of the Pythagorean Theorem. Also, you can use it for students who have missed a day or two. It can help them see the Pythagorean Theorem in a different way.
Independent and Partner Activities
The Pythagorean QR code activity makes a great game, independent activity, center or even homework. It focuses specifically on the converse of the Pythagorean Theorem. Students have to identify if a triangle is a right triangle or not. If you use it as a game then students can battle against each other for a little friendly competition.
To play the QR code game battle, students each answer a different question at the same time. Next, they check their answers using a QR code. You can find QR code readers on a phone, tablet, or computer. Then, students earn points based on the points assigned for each problem through the QR code. This is done randomly. Due to this aspect of them game you can get more points even if you answer questions slower or if you get one wrong. Students love the battle part. Many of my students are very competitive and this is a low-stakes game. Also, this is an opportunity for students to keep themselves accountable.
This version of the game doesn’t have super complicated questions, so it won’t take that long. Students will also experience a high rate of success.
This riddle is a quick practice for students right after you have completed notes and some practice problems. It has a cute and cheesy riddle and 12 problems for students to work through. My students found a lot of success with this activity and completed it rather quickly. It did not take as long as some other topics, so I had to speed up my schedule. They loved finding the answer to the riddle. The other day when we were doing this it spawned a slew of cheesy riddles from my students. It also gave the kids that like to be performers a chance to show their personality.
Mazes are so simple and provide a means of practicing that is non-threatening. We use them almost everyday in my class. I used the Pythagorean Theorem maze the week after we learned this topic. It becomes a way to reinforce what they have learned. It could also easily be used as a center or homework.
Whole Class Activities
Doodle Notes is a part of my “Try One Thing” for this month. My two colleagues have tried this as well. I would say that our first attempt did not go well. It wasn’t horrible, but we did really understand how to make them work. We needed to do a little more upfront research before diving in. We embrace the concept and for that reason we are giving it another try with the distance formula next week. It is a cool concept because it lets kids be creative in math while taking notes. I would still use this again and I will tell you how it goes next week.
There are a lot of ways to use task cards. Really, task cards are just a way to practice problems, but they can also be a powerful engagement tool. I have a set of 27 mini task cards that I use for Pythagorean Theorem. While there are many options in how to use task cards, we played SCOOT with them. SCOOT is a game where you put one task card on each desk. Then, students answer the question on their desk. Next, everyone moves one desk to the right and they are given time to do that problem. Finally, you just keep repeating until students are back to their desk. If you have a small class like me you could have two task cards on each desk. Kids love this activity. I don’t exactly know why they love it so much, to be honest. But it is fast paced and gets them moving around the room.
One great way to review for test or to see how the class is doing is through playing whole class games. One game I love playing with my class is called knockout. It can be played with or without an interactive whiteboard. All you need to have is a projector. This is how it is played:
A student chooses from one of the objects on this screen. After that a question is revealed. Some of the questions have bonuses. The bonuses can be good or bad. Each question has a point value. After you show the answer you go back and choose another question.
This particular game has solving for a missing side problems. Also, it contains converse of the Pythagorean Theorem questions as well. Because students choose what’s next, the questions come up in a random order. That makes it work really well to prep for the unit test.
I play this with students using a whiteboard. They keep track of their points for the problems they get right. I don’t emphasize the points very much, but many students love the points side of the game. When needed I coach students through the problems if they seem to be struggling. We play this type of game the day before or the day of a test. These games work as a final boost for students.
Assessment and Closure
I use a lot of quarter sheet exit tickets. Many of them I have made myself by looking through resources and books and adapting them. This “Explain it to an Alien Exit Ticket” is one of my creations. You can quickly see what students understand about the topic. I give it out at the end of the lesson and have students give it to me as they walk about the door. A few of them will really get into character and act like they are talking to an alien. Other kids won’t get into that part at all. You can click here to get a free copy of this exit ticket to use with your class.
Challenges for extension or fast finishers
The push for performance task sometimes leaves us trying to come up with our own stuff. I don’t really have that problem anymore even since I found Illustrative Mathematics. I have talked about this site before and it is truly a go to for Common Core performance tasks. It is free and the task are so detailed.
My favorite performance task for this topic is called Bird and Dog race. Students have to figure out who will win a race between a Bird and a Dog. It has the right amount of challenge. It includes a series of questions that students have to answer and is not just asking for a right answer. Try this one with your students and see what they can do with it.
Sometimes you come across something really cool that you have never seen before when you search for resources. That is how I feel about this one. The website that it comes from is a paid website, but they have a promotional lesson. It happens to be about Pythagorean Theorem. It comes with a lesson, a manipulative, problems, and a challenge. You can use one part of it or the whole thing. I think it would work great for fast finishers. No matter what type of group you work with there will always be fast finishers. I feel like I always send my fast finishers to Prodigy, which is our intervention. The lesson from Braining Camp gives me a better alternative.
Art Project for Pythagorean Theorem
The Pythagorean Theorem Drawing Project from 123 Teach-Brittany Kiser is a fun activity I used last year as an activity for students when they finished their benchmark test. You can read all about it in this blog post. Students get to be creative and show the Pythagorean Theorem in a real world setting. Due to the fact that I had students do it during testing they weren’t able to ask me a whole bunch of questions. All of them were able to understand it and do it on their own.
Try One Thing
I work part of my day as an academic coach. I’ve learned that most people can’t make many changes to their instruction or classroom management at a time. That’s why I created the “Try One Thing” philosophy. It will amaze you how many tools you can add to your teacher tool box if you try just one thing at a time. This post contains a long list of ideas for Pythagorean Theorem. My challenge to you is to: Try One Thing.
All of my resources and activities for teaching Pythagorean Theorem are also available in a bundle at a steep discount. Check them out 🙂 Until next time!
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