Tangential Learning

I’ve always been fascinated how learning is facilitated through fun, play and games. We have all had personal experiences attesting to this.

Professionally, I first heard about this by reading Marc Prensky’s work. Since then, I’ve always sought ideas on injecting fun activities into my classroom.

More recently, I watched the following video and first heard about Tangential Learning.

This video defines Tangential learning as

what you learn when you’re exposed to things in the context you’re already engaged in…..it’s the idea that some portion of your audience will self-educate if you expose them to concepts in the context that they already find interesting….

I’m not really a video-gamer, much less an author of one, but I lived by these principles and have indeed found that students were most engaged in their learning in such cases. Here are some examples:

1. Decimals

Throughout this topic, the students had to work out how many jelly beans will fit across their desks.  I worked through how they would have solved this problem as they learned more maths from primary school. It started with counting (teacher lines up jelly beans, student lines up jelly beans) to estimating to measuring and calculating. I should add that I had to throw the jelly beans lined up as they ‘carried my germs’. The students were aghast at such waste but they soon figured out that by measuring just one – and learning operations with decimals – they can earn their jelly beans. And so they did!

2. Algebra

I introduced this with a personal experience of wanting to learn how to play Rihanna’s Unfaithful on the piano. Not having played for years, this was a real challenge particularly because the music sheets were several pages long! As if learning Rihanna wasn’t cool enough, the students were particularly impressed that I used YouTube, i.e. this videoshowing me how to do it. The main point was that the video highlighted that the song only really had 3 repeating sections. Learn the 3 and you learn the song. So, not only did I get to learn to play the song, I memorised it really quickly. Patterns are the crux of Algebra. This has set the tone for the students to see that Algebra can be used in something so seemingly far removed from mathematics. Some of them also felt affirmed that teachers use YouTube to learn.

3. Reading Tide Charts and Timetables

The class was told that they were to plan a group’s day out to Manly beach using a wiki.  This YouTube video on wikis was really helpful to enthuse the class. The activity included collecting shells on the beach, watching a movie, catching public transport and be home in time for a particular TV show. I gave them all the web links they needed and they really did not mind reading tide charts at all; they knew it had to be low tide when they go shell-collecting. Some even appreciated learning about Sydney’s Trip Planner. All that besides, they also learned about the challenges of planning and collaborating.

Tangential Learning works and I like it. The real challenge is finding that context that students will be engaged in.

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4 thoughts on “Tangential Learning

  1. Amy Alrawi says:

    Malyn this is so cool! I obviously put a lot of thought into your lessons and care about your students. You must be their fave teacher!

    I wish my old maths teachers thought of stuff like this. Back in the day, my maths lessons were 50 mins of working through the set text book (which had answers in the back anyway). To this day I have numeracy anxiety!

    • malyn says:

      It is work I’m proud of because these examples show that you don’t have to be good in maths to enjoy it. In fact, you could be struggling but still enjoy aspects of it. Thanks for popping by and commenting. It has refreshed my memory and enthusiasm.

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