Every so often, I’ll informally teach a class of gifted elementary-school students. I greatly enjoy interacting with them, and I especially enjoy the questions they pose. Often these children pose questions that no one else will think about, and answering these questions requires a surprisingly depth of mathematical knowledge.

Here’s a question I once received, in the students’ original handwriting. They wanted me to add adjacent numbers on the bottom row to produce the number on the next row, building upward until I reached the apex of the triangle. Then, after I reached the top number, they wanted me to take the square root of that number. (Originally, they wanted me to first multiply by 80 before taking the square root, but evidently they decided to take it easy on me.)

And, just to see if I could do it, they wanted me to do all of this without using a calculator. But they were nice and allowed me to use pencil and paper.

In yesterday’s post, I explained how Pascal’s triangle can be used to conclude

,

thus allowing me to get the top number without getting all of the intermediate steps.

To compute this sum without a calculator, I’ll start rearranging the terms. The reasons for rearranging the terms in this way will become evident later.

.

The terms of the first sum are clearly equal to 0 when and . Also, the $k=0$ term of the second sum is clearly 0. Therefore,

.

It doesn’t look like I’ve improved matters much with this rearrangement of ; I’ll continue the solution in tomorrow’s post.

I'm a Professor of Mathematics and a University Distinguished Teaching Professor at the University of North Texas. For eight years, I was co-director of Teach North Texas, UNT's program for preparing secondary teachers of mathematics and science.
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