We started vectors by talking about different notations and their meanings. We talked about the magnitude of a 2D vector. They could see the clear connection with Pythagorean Theorem, a few even suggested its use, but the 3D formula was not clear to them. Not at all. Students suggested we could use a cube root or cube the coordinates. Both potentially valid extensions of the pattern for sure. I ended class by giving them the formula with no proof no justification - time was running out and I had problems I wanted them to finish. Oops.

Realizing the obvious error of my ways, I started the next class with a model of a 3D vector (I used a wire coat-hanger as the vector and large graph paper to form the X-Y plane). My model was just to show them what I wanted them to build. Their task was to use a meter stick as their vector - which required some engineering - and find the coordinates of the vector in 3D. A few students suggested aligning the vector with a coordinate axis... I nixed that idea.

Once they had the coordinates I asked them to prove the formula given in the last class or better yet to ignore the formula and use only the coordinates to find the length of the vector - which they already knew from the meter stick. 10-15 minutes later folks had drawn right triangles and created a solution!

Once everyone was finished, I pulled the whole class over to one of the more neatly created models so I could point and formalize the ideas.Towards the end several students commented "oh that makes sense," or "now I get it - that formula does make sense." Voila! A simple but effective way to spend 40 minutes of class.

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