Engaging students: The field axioms

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 again comes from my former student Maranda Edmonson. Her topic, from Pre-Algebra: the field axioms of arithmetic (the distributive law, the commutativity and associativity of addition and multiplication, etc.).

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

It is safe to say that the field axioms are used in all mathematics classes once they are introduced. As students, we know them to be rules for how to simplify or expand expressions, solving equations, or just manipulating numbers and expressions. As instructors, we know them to be a solid foundation for further mathematical understanding. “In mathematics or logic, [an axiom is] an unprovable rule or first principle accepted to be true because it is self-evident or particularly useful” (Merriam-Webster.com). Is the distributive property not useful? Isn’t the associative property self-evident? We learn these axioms, master them during the first lesson we encounter them, and they stick with us. Why? Because they are obvious “rules” that we use and apply to all aspects of mathematics. They are a foundation on which we, as instructors, wish to build upon a greater mathematical understanding.

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B. Curriculum: How does this idea extend what your students should have learned in previous courses?

When students first begin to learn addition they are learning the associative property as well. Think about it – when kids learn about the expanded form of a number, they are already seeing that when you add more than two numbers together they equal the same thing, no matter what order they are being added in. For example:

1,458 = 1,000 + 400 + 50 + 8 = (1,000 + 400) + (50 + 8) = (1,000 + 50) + (400 + 8)

and so on. Kids tend to add numbers in the order that they are given. However, when they start learning little tricks (say, their tens facts), then they will start seeing how the numbers work together. For example: 3 + 4 + 7 soon becomes (3 + 7) + 4. Then, when students get into higher grades and begin learning multiplication, the commutative property becomes a real focus. When they are learning their multiplication facts, students are faced with $5 \times 7$ one minute, then 7 \times 5 the next. They start seeing that it does not matter what order the numbers are in, but that when two numbers are being multiplied together, they will equal the same product each time.

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E. Technology: How can technology be used to effectively engage students with this topic?

Math and music are always a good combination. Honestly, who doesn’t hum “Pop! Goes the Weasel” every time they need to use the quadratic formula? This YouTube video (the link is below) is of some students singing a song about the associative, commutative and distributive properties. The video is difficult to hear unless you turn the volume up, and the quality is not the greatest. However, the students in the video get the point across about what the axioms are and that they only apply to addition and multiplication.  Note that you only need to watch the first three minutes of the video. The last minute and a half or so is irrelevant to the axioms themselves.

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