Engaging students: Dot product

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 Candace Clary. Her topic, from Precalculus: computing a dot product.

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


The dot product in algebra is defined as the magnitude and direction of two different vectors, multiplied together. After algebra, the students will start working with vectors. In calculus they will start seeing vectors and finding cross products and dot products of those vectors. Once they get to a linear algebra class, they will begin to work with matrices. Matrices can be seen as vectors, and the dot product of these can then be computed. The dot product can also be used in geometry. The dot product is in geometry can be used to find the angle between two vector, and it can be used to find the length of a vector, with the angle in between known. Computing the dot product of vectors requires the students to remember things like order of operations, and how to multiply several numbers. Knowing how to compute a dot product can help students in physics classes, chemistry classes, and other types of science classes.



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

One activity that I could do as a teacher is by using big sheets of graphing paper. I can ask the students to work in pairs, and have them draw vectors on a piece of poster board graph paper. They would need to draw three or more vectors, and label them to let other students know what their vectors are. After they have drawn three or more, they will pass it to another group. These groups will then determine the dot product of the vectors that were drawn. They will be required to show their work on the side, neatly, and be able to explain how they got their answers. After the work has been completed, they will need to graph the dot products of the vectors in a different color. Once all the groups are done, the posters will be hung around the room and the class will take a gallery walk to looks at the posters and take notes on the solutions so they are able to see it many times. These posters will then stay up in the classroom for most of the unit for reference.

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1. How can technology (YouTube, Khan Academy [khanacademy.org], Vi Hart, Geometers Sketchpad, graphing calculators, etc.) be used to effectively engage students with this topic? Note: It’s not enough to say “such-and-such is a great website”; you need to explain in some detail why it’s a great website.

This video on YouTube will be great to engage the kids. This teacher intrigues me, he is so hyper when it comes to math and really explains it in a simple way to understand. In this video, he breaks the topic down and shows many different ways to compute the dot product of a vector. I like the fact that he states the properties of the vectors before he starts to talk about computing them. I also like that he keeps them up on the board and on the screen while he uses a numerical example. He also shows how we can use the dot product to find the angle between two vectors. He does this in the second part of the video, which means I can cut the video where I need, depending on what topic I am teaching. I think that this teacher does a great job of explaining, and even though this is an educational video, where material is taught, I think kids will learn from it.


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