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I keep on seeing this in my Geometry classes this year. Tasked with finding the area of a right triangle, kids move toward the hypotenuse even if two of the other sides are given. Then they end up stuck looking for a height that they can’t find.

I’m pretty convinced — based on talking to kids and looking at their work — that this is all about how they see right triangles. These kids must be seeing hypotenuses as bases, and it must feel weird for them to treat the legs as bases. Or maybe instead it’s about the height? Maybe it feels strange to them to use a leg as a height?