Shaving cream polynomials

By Murray Bourne, 06 Mar 2007

I like this story from USA Today, Math plus creativity equals learning that lasts. It is about a teacher who has reduced the abstract nature of mathematics into something that is hands-on, concrete and fun.

Luajean Bryan's algebra class is graphing polynomials on an X and Y axis. Pretty standard stuff, except they're drawing the equations in shaving cream that Bryan has sprayed on their desktops.

[Bryan says:] "Now, clear your slates and draw a six-power equation with all real roots."

[To know what she was getting at in this lesson, see Polynomial Equations of Higher Degree.]

Bryan's classroom at Walker Valley High School bristles with energy, creativity and enthusiasm all day long — through algebra, statistics, pre-calculus and calculus.

And from one of her students:

"You learned about a parabola, and how the sun's light focuses it to flow to the vortex," says John Gibson, 17, a junior. "She works hard to make sure you grasp the concepts more than anything. She doesn't leave anybody behind."

There should be more of this. mathematics does not need to be dry and boring. Just letting go of the "must sit in class and drill-and-kill" approach is very liberating. Teachers always worry about "getting through all the curriculum". I will leave the last word to Ms Bryan:

"Before, I didn't think I could teach with the projects without interfering with the curriculum," she says. "But the administrators here encouraged (projects), and I saw that the students responded well. … The learning lasts. The students connect with the material in a way they wouldn't have otherwise."

See the 1 Comment below.

One Comment on “Shaving cream polynomials”

  1. Peter says:

    I'm teaching polynomials next week! Thanks for this timely post. I'll try the shaving cream idea.

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