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Pythagorean Pitfalls: Help for Math Students

baseball diamond photoAs I go on my tutoring rounds, I wind up reteaching and clarifying the same material over and over. Certain topics and concepts are just plain hard for students to wrap their heads around.

Many kids in grades 6-10 are currently covering Pythagorean Theorem or other geometry topics, and many are struggling (as usual!) with the word problems.

If you are a parent, thinking Yipes ! I don’t remember Pythagorean Theorem, the good news is that most students find the actual formula pretty do-able. But, they need help in reading the problem and drawing the diagram.

Here’s a sample problem from one textbook: The path between each base on a baseball diamond is 90 ft. How far does a catcher need to throw the ball in order to get a runner out at second base?

I found that even some students who play baseball had trouble drawing this diagram! But, once we talked it through and drew the picture together, they could do the math easily.

Here’s another problem: A doorway is 3 feet wide, and carpenters need to deliver a plate glass window 8 feet wide. How tall must the doorway be for the plate glass window to fit through?

Adults may be astounded, but it wasn’t at all obvious to any of my students that the plate glass window would need to go through the doorway diagonally. For most kids, I needed to act out the scenario, holding my notebook at a slant  and pretending it was the window, so they could connect the words in the problem to reality.

Parents, too, can often help their kids with math by helping them read carefully, follow directions and draw diagrams.

I think it’s worth noticing that, although most people won’t use formulas like Pythagorean Theorem a lot in their adult lives, working on math in general teaches students to make sense of the world…and that’s a great answer to “Why do we have to learn this stuff?”

If you’d like a quick refresher on Pythagorean Theorem, here’s a good video:

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Photo by ttarasiuk

Pythagorean Pitfalls: Help for Math Students

Leigh Pretnar Cousins, MS

Leigh Pretnar Cousins, MS is an educator, counselor, writer and speaker. She's been a tutor, test prep coach and home school teacher for over thirty years. Click HERE to visit Leigh's website and to subscribe to her newsletter, "Learning Something New."

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APA Reference
Cousins, L. (2016). Pythagorean Pitfalls: Help for Math Students. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 28, 2020, from


Last updated: 6 Feb 2016
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