Engaging students: Using Pascal’s triangle

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 Daniel Herfeldt. His topic, from Precalculus: using Pascal’s triangle.

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A great activity for Pascal’s triangle would be to first have the students find a pattern of odds and evens. The first thing that you would do is to print out blank Pascal’s triangle. You would give each student a paper for them to fill out. They would have to first fill out the triangle themselves. This would give them practice on which numbers to add as well as further see a pattern of what the next one would potentially look like. After they finish, they would have to color in all of the odd numbers a certain color, and followed by coloring all of the even ones a different color. From here, they will see that once you color it is, the even numbers will make an upside down triangle. Next to the biggest triangles, you will see smaller triangles. An example is shown below. When the students have finished, you will show them why it is like that. Then explain what the name of the colored triangle is, which is called the Sierpinski Triangle.

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Pascal’s Triangle is used all over mathematics. It is mainly recognized as how to find the coefficients of binomials, as well as a lot of other uses for binomials. What students and many other people do not know, is that this triangle can be used for much more. For example, you are able to use Pascal’s triangle to find the Fibonacci sequence. Although it may be a little harder to find than the coefficients of binomials, it is still possible. If you add up the numbers in a diagonal pattern from right to left, you will be able to find the Fibonacci sequence. Below will be a picture of how this is implemented. Another way that this will help in future courses is that it allows you to find squares of a number easily. If you look at the 3rd diagonal row, adding two consecutive numbers from left to right will give the square of a number. A picture of this will also be posted below. Another way that this is implemented in future courses is statistics and probability. This triangle can be used to find the probability of many different things. This is only a few ways that the triangle can be used in future courses, considering that there are plenty of other ways it can be used. In all, this is a very important topic for someone that is pursuing mathematics.

Fibonacci sequence:

Squares of a number:

 

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This video would be a great way to either start a lesson on Pascal’s Triangle or to review the lesson before a test. The video shows different ways that you can implement the triangle to solve different things in mathematics. If this was the video to start the lesson, I would have each student take out a notebook and writing utensil while watching the video. Throughout the video the students would have to find at least three different ways a person may use Pascal’s triangle that they found particularly interesting. This should lead to most of the ways to be picked by at least one student. After they share their answers, explain further why these work. This could make students more intrigued with the subject. If the video was for a review of the topic, I would also have the students have out a writing utensil and a notebook. For this instance, I would have each individual write down what they had forgotten about Pascal’s triangle. From here the teacher will review the points that were most forgotten, serving as a review.

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