Could new-look protractor help confused pupils?

Teacher claims her new protractor design makes a big difference in the classroom – but one maths expert is sceptical

Will one teacher's new design for a protractor catch on in maths classrooms?

A frustrated maths teacher is hoping to curb confusion in geometry lessons by redesigning a basic item in every pupil’s pencil case.

Shelley Frape, who teaches at Harrow Way Community School in Andover, Hampshire, has come up with a new look for the humble protractor – in an effort to cut down on unnecessary errors made by puzzled pupils.


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Ms Frape has attempted to simplify the device by removing the anti-clockwise scale and placing the zero line at the base of the protractor, while printing the words acute and obtuse on the side, which she believes will make it easier for students to measure angles.

New protractor

The new protractor, as designed by maths teacher Shelley Frape

The teacher, who said the markings on the traditional protractor had been “the cause of some confusion” in her maths lessons, worked with both primary and secondary schools to test her new design in the classroom.

Clearing up confusion in maths?

“The feedback was very positive with both schools reporting back that their students found the redesigned version much easier to use, which helped reduce the number of unnecessary errors made by their students,” she said.

“Exam boards were then approached to see if it would be acceptable for use in their exams and they agreed that the non-worded version would be acceptable for use at key stage 2 and in an exam setting.”

But David Miles, treasurer of the Mathematical Association and assistant headteacher at Sir John Leman High School in Beccles, Suffolk, cast doubt over the need for a redesign, arguing “this might be fixing a problem that doesn’t need to be fixed”.

“Students often do read the wrong number from the protractor when measuring, so I can see why the inventor thought there was a need for a redesign,” he said.

“Having the zero line at the very bottom is certainly an improvement. I’m not sure the addition of the words 'acute' and 'obtuse' adds much as these are not words that students routinely forget.

“There are occasions when we need to measure in the other direction (for example in constructions or bearings questions) and the new protractor would not be ideal then.

“In summary, this might be fixing a problem that doesn’t need to be fixed. It might be better to give students plenty of opportunity in lessons to familiarise themselves with the traditional version.”

Standard protractor

The traditional protractor design

In collaboration with stationery company Helix, Ms Frape has launched her design for distribution throughout the UK and overseas.

When asked if any other school equipment may benefit from a revamp, Mr Miles added: “Pairs of compasses always need tightening up with a screwdriver. Surely something could be done about that?”

The new protractor is due to be available to buy online from tomorrow. It is due to be included in the YPO school supplies catalogue next year.

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