Engaging students: Perimeters of polygons

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 Nicholas Sullivan. His topic, from Geometry: perimeters of polygons.

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How could you as a teacher create an activity or project that involves your topic?
As a future educator teaching the subject of perimeter of a polygon I would suggest making a project for your students. The main materials needed would be poster board and duct tape, but its possible for the project to end up bigger than a poster board. Using the duct tape the students will fold it in half to make a small “fence”. The students will be able to choose from a variety of situations in which they need to create a fence for certain open areas. An example of situation would be a barn that needs sectioned off areas for chickens, cows, goats, and horses. The student using their own judgement would create the optimal fenced in area to separate the animals as necessary. Then once finished they would need to figure out how much fence to buy, first by converting the model to actual dimensions and then finding the total amount of fence. By the end of the lesson they will realize that no matter what kind of indents they made into the fenced in area they still had to count it as part of the fence, which relates to how perimeter works, you have to find the total amount of distance around any polygon.
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What are the contributions of various cultures to this topic?
How have different cultures throughout time used this topic in their society?
Ancient Egyptians and Babylonains used perimeter amongst other complex math calculations around 1800 B.C. Building the pyramids involved finding the perimeter of the different sections of the pyramids, such that the next layer be measured out and cut correctly. Perimeter breaks down to mean “around measure”. Many people were trying to efficiently and correctly compute the perimeter of a circle (we later came to know this as circumference). Knowing the perimeter of a wheel can help you know how much distance one full wheel rotation takes. Perimeter is a concrete subject and there was not any credit for anyone who “discovered” perimeter, because its something that people have always done, and needed to do.

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

This youtube video very clearly introduces the main topics related to perimeter. I would use it as  an introductory video to engage the students and get some of the vocabulary in their head. I really enjoy the way it talks about breaking a square and taking the edges off, laying them side by side and how that is also the perimeter. This video could set up an activity involving a similar activity to that, for example using string to create a square, and then measuring how long the string is, and comparing that to the perimeter. If everything is done correctly you will get the same answer doing both ways.






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