# Engaging students: Square Roots

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 student Allison Metzler. Her topic, from Pre-Algebra: square roots.

A2. How could you as a teacher create an activity or project that involves your topic?

The following activity, http://ispeakmath.org/2012/05/03/square-roots-with-cheez-its-and-a-graphic-organizer/, effectively engages students because it’s hands-on and allows the students to work together. The students would start with their own cheez-its, creating the smaller squares (1, 4,9). Then, they would work in groups by combining their cheez-its to make bigger squares. Eventually, they would come together as a class to see how big of a square they could create. This involves square roots because each time the student would create a square (assuming they know the properties of a square), they would see that the square root would equal the base of the square. Also, they would see that the base of a square could be any of its four sides because they are all congruent or equal. Thus, the reasoning behind the name, “square root”, would become more apparent. Because they wouldn’t have a calculator as a resource, this visual method of teaching would give the students a more efficient way of calculating square roots. This activity is an effective way to get the students to remember the concept of square roots because it involves food, it’s hands-on, and they’ll learn a visual method of calculating square roots. D4. What are the contributions of various cultures to this topic?

Many cultures have contributed to the concept of square roots. From 1800 BC to 1600 BC, the Babylonians created a clay tablet proving 2^1/2 and 30*2^1/2 using a square crossed by two diagonals. Within that time (1650 BC), a copy of an earlier work showed how the Egyptians extracted square roots. From 202 BC to 186 BC, the Chinese text Writings on Reckoning described a means to approximate the square roots of two and three. In the 9th century, the Indian mathematician Mahāvīra stated that square roots of negative numbers do not exist. Then, in 1546, Cantaneo introduced the idea of square roots to Europeans. The last major contribution to the concept of square roots was in 1528 when the German mathematician, Christoph Rudolff, introduced the modern root symbol in print for the first time.

To present this to the students, I would use the following timeline and proceed to briefly mention what each culture contributed to the topic of square roots.  E1. How can technology (YouTube, Khan Academy [khanacademy.org], Vi Hart, Geometers Sketchpad, graphing calculators, etc.) be used to effectively engage students with this topic?

The video, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AfBQGLowyKU, uses Elvis’s (You’re So Square) Baby I Don’t Care and recreates it with lyrics relating to square roots. This video not only accurately describes the main components of square roots, but also includes actual examples of perfect squares and square roots. It points out that the square root is the inverse of the square of a number. It also describes the base and the exponent which are directly related to the square root. Because the video is based off an actual song, it should effectively engage students and help them remember it since it’s catchy. Also, it is a great way to introduce the topic to the students where they want to know more, but aren’t overwhelmed with the amount of new information.

Banta, Willy, prod. Think I’m a Square, Baby I Don’t Care. Perf. Elvis Presley. YouTube, 2011. Web. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AfBQGLowyKU&gt;.

Reulbach, Julie. “Square Roots with Cheez-Its and a Graphic Organizer.” I Speak Math., 3 May 2012. Web. <http://ispeakmath.org/2012/05/03/square-roots-with-cheez-its-and-a-graphic-organizer/&gt;.

“Square Root.” Wikipedia. Wikipedia Foundation Inc., 10 Jan. 2014. Web. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Square_root#History&gt;. 