How to scaffold problem solving in geometry

By | August 28, 2011

Scaffolding is a metaphor for describing a type of facilitating a teacher does to support students’ own construction of knowledge. It is usually in the form of questions or additional information. In scaffolding learning, we should be careful not to reduce the learning by rote. In the case of problem solving for example, the scaffolds provided should not reduce the problem solving activity into one where students follow procedures disguised as scaffolds. So how much scaffolding should we provide? Where do we stop? Let us consider this problem:

ABCD is a square. E is the midpoint of CD. AE intersects the diagonal BD at F.

  1. List down the polygons formed by segments BD and AE in the square.
  2. How many percent of the area of square ABCD is the area of each of the polygons formed?

Students will have no problem with #1. In #2, I’m sure majority if not all will be able to compare the area of triangles ABD, BCD, AED and quadrilateral ABCE to the area of the square. The tough portion is the area of the other polygons – ABF, AFD, FED, and BCEF.

In a problem solving lesson, it is important to allow the learners to do as much as they can on their own first, and then to intervene and provide assistance only when it is needed. In problems involving geometry, the students difficulty is in visualizing the relationships among shapes. So the scaffolding should be in helping students to visualize the shapes (I actually included #1 as initial help already) but we should never tell the students the relationships among the geometric figures. I created a GeoGebra worksheet to show the possible scaffolding that can be provided so students can answer question #2. Click here to to take you to the GeoGebra worksheet.


Extension of the problem: What if E is 1/4 of its way from C to D? How many percent of the square will be the area of the three triangles and the quadrilateral? How about 1/3? 2/3? Can it be generalized?

Please share with other teachers. I will appreciate feedback so I can improve the activity. Thank you.

More Geometry Problems:

  1. The Humongous Book of Geometry Problems: Translated for People Who Don’t Speak Math
  2. Challenging Problems in Geometry


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