Engaging students: Finding the area of a square or rectangle

In my capstone class for future secondary math teachers, I ask my students to come up with ideas for engaging their students with different topics in the secondary mathematics curriculum. In other words, the point of the assignment was not to devise a full-blown lesson plan on this topic. Instead, I asked my students to think about three different ways of getting their students interested in the topic in the first place.

I plan to share some of the best of these ideas on this blog (after asking my students’ permission, of course).

This student submission comes from my former student Alyssa Dalling. Her topic, from Geometry: finding the area of a square or rectangle.

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D. How have different cultures throughout time used this topic in their society?


  • For three thousand years, the Great Pyramid of Giza was the world’s tallest man-made structure. It is also the oldest structure of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. It was built by cutting huge stones into rectangles then placing each stone into place to create the base. It is believed by many that the pharaoh Khufu had his vizier Hemon create the design for the great Pyramids. What is amazing about the design of the Pyramid of Giza is that each of the four sides of the base has an average error of only 58 millimeters in length. Meaning the base is almost a perfect square!
  • It would be fun to start the engage with introducing the Pyramid of Giza and explaining the facts above. Then students would be given the dimensions of other pyramids where they would have to find the area of the base to see whether they created a square or rectangular pyramid. This would get them excited about this topic because students would be exploring math that has actually been used in real life.


  • The Mesoamericans also built pyramids with square and rectangular bases. The picture above is in a city known as Chechen Itza which is located in the Mexican state of Yucatan. It is called El Castillo, and also known as the Temple of Kukulkan. Unlike the Egyptian pyramids though, the Mayan pyramids were usually meant as steps to get to a temple on top. The pyramids consisted of several square bases stacked onto each other with steps up each side. El Castillo consists of nine square terraces each about 8.4 feet tall. The main base of the pyramid is approximately 55.3 meters (181 feet).
  • What would be fun to do is have students find the area of each level and compare it to all the levels on the pyramid. I feel students would have fun seeing just how big this type of structure is and understanding the planning it took to create the different levels in this pyramid.

Sources: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Pyramid_of_Giza and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pyramids#Nigeria

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B. How can this topic be used in your students’ future courses in mathematics or science?

  • Finding the area of squares and rectangles will be used a lot in Algebra and Algebra II. One example in Algebra is when students start solving for unknown variables. A student would be asked to find the area of a square when they have two unknown sides.
  • The following is an example engage problem students would use the finding the area of a square or rectangle to solve.

Principal Smith has decided the school needs a new practice basketball court. The current practice court is a square with an area of 144 square feet. She wants the new court to be a rectangle twice as long as it is wide. Find the length of all the sides of both the old court and the new court and find the area of the new court.


x^2 = 144

So x = 12

Then x(2x) = 2x^2 = 2(12)^2 = 288

The square court has sides of 12.

The rectangular court has sides of 12×24 and an area of 288 square feet.

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