A class of students attending José Urbina López Primary School in Matamoros, Mexico had little access to the internet, broken classroom equipment, and difficult living situations. Their teacher, Sergio Juárez Correa, helped them succeed in extraordinary ways using a radical teaching method:

“In Finland, teachers underwent years of training to learn how to orchestrate this new style of learning; he was winging it. He began experimenting with different ways of posing open-ended questions on subjects ranging from the volume of cubes to multiplying fractions. ‘The volume of a square-based prism is the area of the base times the height. The volume of a square-based pyramid is that formula divided by three,’ he said one morning. ‘Why do you think that is?’

“He walked around the room, saying little. It was fascinating to watch the kids approach the answer. They were working in teams and had models of various shapes to look at and play with. The team led by Usiel Lemus Aquino, a short boy with an ever-present hopeful expression, hit on the idea of drawing the different shapes—prisms and pyramids. By layering the drawings on top of each other, they began to divine the answer. Juárez Correa let the kids talk freely. It was a noisy, slightly chaotic environment—exactly the opposite of the sort of factory-friendly discipline that teachers were expected to impose. But within 20 minutes, they had come up with the answer.

“‘Three pyramids fit in one prism,’ Usiel observed, speaking for the group. ‘So the volume of a pyramid must be the volume of a prism divided by three.’”