Engaging students: Solving linear systems of equations with matrices

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 Danielle Pope. Her topic, from Algebra II: solving linear systems of equations with matrices.

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B2. How does this topic extend what your students should have learned in previous courses?

Based off of the TEKS, matrices are introduced in Algebra 2. In previous math courses, students are already going to learn basic arithmetic from elementary school and solving equations in middle and high school. By the time students get to high school, they should have solving single equations down. This concept is then expanded with a system of equations, which is taught with the help of matrices. A matrix is just an “array of numbers” so that’s why this method of solving can be used with linear equations. Once the matrix is set up there are 2 main ways to solve for the solutions. The one I will be discussing is reduced row echelon form. This method of solving systems utilizes the basic arithmetic that students already know. There are 3 row operations that students already know how to use in general not related to matrices. Those are multiplying a row by a constant, switching two rows, and adding a constant times a row to another row. Even though these specific operations are used for matrices, kids have seen how to multiply 2 constants or variables, switching variables, and adding constants or variables in their previous courses. Matrices just add another element to their basic arithmetic abilities.


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D4. What are the contributions of various cultures to this topic?

Matrices have been around for much longer than some people may realize. One of the earliest civilizations that matrices were traced back to were the Babylonians. This was just one of the many contributions that they contributed to mathematics. The Chinese wrote a book, Nine Chapters of the Mathematical Art, Written during the Han Dynasty in China gave the first known example of matrix methods”. During the same era, around 200 BC, a Chinese mathematician Liu Hui solved linear equations using matrices. In the 1800s, Germany started taking a look at matrices. German mathematician, Carl Jacobi, brought the idea of determinants and matrices into the light. Carl Gauss, another German mathematician, took this idea of determinants and developed it. It wasn’t until Augustin Cauchy, a French mathematician, used and defined the word determinant how was use it today. James Sylvester, an English mathematician, “used the term matrix in 1850”. Sylvester also worked with mathematician Arthur Cayley who “first published an abstract definition of matrix” in his memoir on the Theory of Matrices in 1858. This final definition of a determinant is still used today in classrooms to help solve complex system of equations.


green lineE1. How can technology (YouTube, Khan Academy [khanacademy.org], Vi Hart, Geometers Sketchpad, graphing calculators, etc.) be used to effectively engage students with this topic?

In a classroom today, students should be able to access use of a graphing calculator. The matrix feature on these can easily check the work of students just learning how to row-reduce or solve for determinants and inverse matrices. In the classroom, I would use this technology like a race for the right answer to get them engaged in matrices. Give students an easy 2-equation system and have them solve for the variables. Each new problem add an equation or add a variable. While students are solving by hand, the teacher will be using the calculator to see which person can get the answer first. Overtime the problems will be too daunting to do by hand so students will be more engaged to learn this faster shortcut using the calculator. Another resource that can be used out of the classroom is Khan Academies’ videos on solving system of equations with matrices. These videos can be used to fill in any gaps if students have questions at home. These videos can also be used as the lecture in a flipped classroom environment.






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