The Tower in the Sea of Lava

In the interest of getting myself used to being more consistent, a forced blog entry.

I’ve been trying to get better at using storytelling to add juice to the work we do in class.  I really enjoy it, (used this one the other day), and I find it really promotes exploration and student questions which really flesh out understanding.

So, when I cam to the classic trig problem, ‘two boats can be seen from a lighthouse at such and such an angle’ I decided to eliminate the fluff and put us in the lighthouse.

Welcome to the lonely tower in a sea of lava.

Our building has a sanctuary with a balcony.  In it we went, toting our clinometers.

‘We are in a tower, surrounded by lava ‘ I told them.  ‘But there is an island (the stage)’  Of course, we only have the resources for one trip, so we have to know its big enough before we go.’

And then I let them at it.  And you know what?  From 200 feet away a few groups got within 4%.  (I’m better learning how to choose things that have comparable answers as well!)


  • For my 2nd period I brought along a long measuring tape – much better for measuring how tall our tower was.
  • Some kids bit.  Others didn’t, so I’m still thinking of ways to improve.
  • Next time I’m going to build the narrative further – there are x number of us, we take this much space per person to live, estimate the islands area (requires some interesting assumptions), how many can go?
  • Did they really get that the power of this method is that we were able to take every measurement without moving?  Cause thats the amazing part – putting an intellectual bow on what we do in class could do better.
  • I’m really glad I wrote this post.  I meant it to be short, but I really got into it.

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