Engaging students: Word problems involving inequalities

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 Emily Bruce. Her topic, from Algebra: word problems involving inequalities.

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

Everyone learns in different ways. There are three common learning types, which are auditory, visual, and kinesthetic. The best activities and lesson plans involve all three of these learning styles. A great way to involve all of these learning styles is to use objects that students can rearrange and manipulate with their hands. When learning about inequality word problems, I would have print large numbers and symbols on pieces of paper that they could tape to a whiteboard. In groups, they would be able to rearrange their numbers and inequality symbols as they are working through a word problem, until the figure out the correct inequality. Then as a class, we could discuss their answers. This addresses the auditory, by discussing, the visual, by them seeing the inequalities as they read them, and the kinesthetic learners, by being able to manipulate it using their hands.



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What are the contributions of various cultures to this topic?

The strict inequality symbols (less than and greater than) were originally seen in 1631, when used by British mathematician, Thomas Harriot. Some believe that his inspiration for these symbols came from a symbol that he saw on the arm of a Native American. The symbol he saw looked like the strict inequality symbols overlapping. The bars for the unstrict inequalities (less than or equal to and greater than or equal to) were not added until much later. It wasn’t until almost 40 years later, in 1670, that John Wallis started putting a line above the strict inequality symbols. Almost 65 years after that, in 1734, French mathematician, Pierre Bouguer, began writing a double line underneath the inequality symbols.






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How can technology be used to effectively engage students with this topic?

Quizlet.com is a website that can be used as a good review for many topics. When exploring the section on inequality word problems, I found many useful and engaging things that would help students review and study the material. There were flash cards with word problems on one side and the corresponding equations on the flip side. There was also a test that they could take after studying the material, in order to examine their progress. Lastly, the website had two games that involve solving inequality word problems. This is a great way for students to study and review material. The website is not only great for inequality word problems, but topics of all kinds, in all subjects.



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