Engaging students: Arithmetic sequences

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 Jessica Martinez. Her topic, from Precalculus: arithmetic sequences.

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What interesting things can you say about the people who contributed to the discovery and/or the development of this topic?

Perhaps some of us realized that we were pretty good at math at a young age, though I wonder if anyone was as good at math, or as fast a learner, as Carl Friedrich Gauss was. When Gauss was two he taught himself how to read; when he was three he checked and corrected his dad’s math whenever his father was calculating the payroll; and probably one of the most famous stories about Gauss was that when he was 9 or 10 he created a formula for an arithmetic progression just by glancing at a problem, which ultimately helped Gauss to start his lifelong education and career in mathematical theory. Gauss was sitting in an arithmetic class taught by a man named Buttner, who was said to dislike teaching peasant children, but he was so surprised and impressed that Gauss correctly calculated the solution to the sequence problem that Buttner started to take Gauss under his and wing and help him with his education. Turns out that the formula created by Gauss can be used to find any arithmetic progression. Later on, Gauss eventually earned a doctorate at the age of 22 with the financial help of the Duke of Brunswick; his dissertation was about the fundamental theory of algebra. Gauss had numerous and important contributions to the field of mathematics, but I won’t state them here for the fear of feeling highly insignificant to one of the greatest mathematicians of all time.




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How has this topic appeared in pop culture (movies, TV, current music, video games, etc.)?

This is kind of a cool tidbit for any music lovers and any Led Zeppelin fans. So Led Zeppelin III had a crazy array of imagery on its album sleeve and volvelle, which was great way to further engage people who listened to their music. However, we know that records are a thing of past, replaced by CDs and now online streaming. So a musician named Bill Baird, who was inspired by the themes of Led Zeppelin’s third album, created a way to make his website and album just as aesthetically pleasing and interesting as LZ by using mathematical equations and formulas. The site where you can listen to his music has a sort of kaleidoscope design (inspired by LZ’s sundials and astronomical designs) that changes as the music plays, where the artwork “mimics the music” since music themes and sounds are constantly changing over time. However, even more interesting is that the music is different for every listener. The site uses an arithmetic sequence formula based on the listener’s location and the time they accessed the site along with the hand-mixed tracks by Bill to create a unique sequence (and thus a unique album) for every listener. If the database creates an already used track, it starts the process over again until it gets a new sequence.


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

One of my previous teachers suggested this as a great real world problem for arithmetic sequences: Halley’s Comet. The video itself is just a short clip in order to grab my students’ attention; the video describes the comet’s path, its velocity, and its appearances in history with fancy graphics and imaging which can appeal to the science and space lovers in my class along with history lovers. The path of the comet brings it around visible to earth about every 75 years. After we covered some basics on arithmetic sequences, I can present this video to my class and have them research the comet and how it can be represented with a sequence. Some of the questions I could ask them to answer could be: when did it last come? What are the next 3, 4, 5, etc. years it will visit? Have you or will you see it in your lifetime? Calculate its 50th visit from its last visit, its 100th visit? I could then challenge them to find some other natural phenomena that also follows an arithmetic sequence.



[Video file]. (2015, January 10). In The Legacy of Halley’s Comet. Retrieved November 18, 2016, from https://youtu.be/elsRH_utRdo

Carl Friedrich Gauss. (n.d.). Retrieved November 18, 2016, from http://www.sonoma.edu/math/faculty/falbo/gauss.html

Dial, C. (2016, October 27). Album Turns Into Something New Each Time It’s Played. Retrieved November 18, 2016, from http://www.psfk.com/2016/10/music-album-bill-baird-algorithm.html

Gauss: The Prince of Mathematics | Brilliant Math & Science Wiki. (n.d.). Retrieved November 18, 2016, from https://brilliant.org/wiki/gauss-the-prince-of-mathematics/

Howell, E. (2013, February 20). Halley’s Comet: Facts About the Most Famous Comet. Retrieved November 18, 2016, from http://www.space.com/19878-halleys-comet.html


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