Engaging students: Geometric sequences

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 Michelle McKay. Her topic, from Precalculus: geometric sequences.

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A.     What interesting word problems using this topic can your student do now?

In the movie Pay it Forward (2000), the young boy Trevor has the following idea: He can make the world a better place by encouraging people to help others.


If Trevor helps three people and asks that they help three other people instead of repaying him, how can we represent this as a sequence? Write the first 5 terms.  (Hint: Let Trevor be represented by the number 1.)

What is a formula that can give us the amount of people affected after n terms?

When will 177,147 people be affected? 14,348,907 people?

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

For science classes, geometric sequences can be used to represent data collected for exponential growth or decay of a population or solution over time. Below are some examples of how geometric sequences can appear in a future science class.

Biology: A researcher is determining whether a certain species of mouse is thriving in its environment or becoming endangered. The total population of the mouse is calculated each year. What conclusions can you draw from the data below?













Chemistry: A student has been monitoring the amount of Na in a solution. Based off the data collected, when will the Na in the solution be negligible?


Na %

1 95%
2 42.75%
3 19.24%
4 8.65%

Physics: Students in a physics class measure the following heights of a ball that has been dropped from 10 feet in the air. Each measured height is taken at the highest point in the ball’s trajectory.






Source: http://www.phschool.com/atschool/academy123/english/academy123_content/wl-book-demo/ph-256s.html

green lineA.     Application of geometric sequences.

The following prompt can be used as a short response or in-class debate:

A student is standing a distance of x meters away from the front of the classroom. If he decreases the distance between himself and the front of the classroom by half each time he moves, will he ever reach the front of the classroom? What if instead of a student, we use a point on a line? Justify your answer.


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