Sometimes my best ideas come when I wing it. I don’t wing it all the time, but I have been known to toss a plan out the window half an hour before a lesson and try something new.

Today I did just that. My year 10s (US 9th grade equivalent) were up for a lesson speed, distance, and time. Rather than teaching the formula and working through problems, I did a Google search and found this from NCTM Illuminations.

I adapted it for my students. First I had them guess how far they would be able to walk in 8 seconds. I was getting results like 2 meters, 3 meters, 7 meters. No concept of speed at all. Then I went ahead and had them close their eyes and try to measure a minute. They were really accurate at that but then I realized they could hear the ticking clock! Oh well.

We went outside to our playground with our long tape measures and phones. I told them to get in groups and get 2 measurements:

  1. How far can you walk in 8 seconds?
  2. How long does it take you to walk the length of your tape measure?

I set my own timer for 10 minutes and they actually managed to get done in that time.

Next is when the winging it part happened. As I was walking back in, I saw the head of science, and I excitedly told her we were working on speed, distance, and time. She said, “oh, we did that last week in Science! They had to run 20 meters on the playground.”

Well, that threw a wrench in my plans, but I saw it as a positive thing and realized I could move on to converting m/s to km/hr, which is a big challenge for them sometimes.

I asked all the students to convert their measurements to m/s using the methods they had learned in science. Then I opened a spreadsheet and went around asking all of them what their measurements were. In the back of my mind I figured we could bring this back into relevance when we do scattergraphs and correlation.

Once we had all of that, we talked about reaction time and how many of them had a hard time stopping when time was called at 8 seconds, and it was much easier to know when to stop when you had a set distance.

I was then able to move onto conversions, but ran out of time. We’ll finish tomorrow.

This highlighted the need to talk with other departments in the school to see when we are teaching overlapping topics. There is so much more we could have done with science to connect the subjects and support each other. It happened in a random conversation, but I should have been more intentional with my plans when I was making my course outline. Science has a number of topics that overlap with math, but I want to challenge myself to talk with other teachers and see if we can integrate our subjects a bit more, even in the high school. Middle school is so much easier to do this with.

I don’t recommend winging it all the time. Having a plan is good, and necessary. But I like to hold those plans loosely in case I have another idea.

When is the last time you tossed your plans out the window right before a lesson and did something that worked spectacularly well? Did it ever fail massively?