Engaging students: Completing the square

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 Kelsi Kolbe. Her topic, from Algebra: completing the square.

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A2) How could you as a teacher create an activity or project that involves your topic?

When students are learning how to complete the square they are usually told the algorithm take b divide it by two and square it, add that number to both sides. To the students this concept seems like a ‘random trick’ that works. This can lead to students forgetting the formula with no way to get it back. However, if we show students how to complete the square using algebra tiles they will be able to understand how the formula came to be (pictured to the left). This will allow the students to be able to have actual concrete knowledge to lean on if they forget the algorithm.

For an engage I would introduce them how to use the algebra tiles by representing different equations on the tiles. I would mix perfect squares and non-perfect squares. I would wait to do the actual completing the square as the explore activity. This way it’s something they can experiment with and really learn the material themselves.

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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?

Muhammad Al-Khwarizmi was a Persian mathematician in the early 9th century. He oversaw the translation of many mathematical works into Arabic. He even produced his own work which would influence future mathematics. In 830 he published a book called: “Al-Kitab al-mukhtasar fi hisab al-jabr wa’l-muqabala” Which translates to “The Compendious Book on Calculation by Completion and Balancing” This book is still considered a fundamental book of modern algebra. The word algebra actually came from the Latinization of the word “al-jabr” which was in the title of his book. The term ‘algorithm’ also came from the Latinization of Al-Kwarizmi. In his book he solved second degree polynomials. He used new methods of reduction, cancellation, and balancing. He developed a formula to solving quadratic equations. As you can see to the right this is how Al-Khwarizmi used the method of ‘completing the square’ in his book. It is very similar to how we use algebra tiles in modern day. You can really see the effect he had on modern algebra, especially in solving quadratic equations.

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E1) How can technology be used to effectively engage students with this topic?

I found a fun YouTube video of the Fort Collins High School Math Department singing a parody of Taylor Swift’s song “blank space”. In the video they are teaching the steps for completing the square. It also addresses imaginary numbers for more complex problems. I think this could be a fun engage to get the students attention. The video incorporates pop culture into something educational. I have always liked watching mathematical parodies videos on YouTube. It not only engages the students, but if they already know the words to the song, they could also get the song stuck in their head, which will help them solve the problems in the future.

Completing the Square. (n.d.). Retrieved September 14, 2017, from http://www.mathisradical.com/completing-the-square.html
Mastin, L. (2010). Islamic Mathmatics – Al-Khwarizmi. Retrived September 14, 2017, from http://www.storyofmathematics.com/islamic_alkhwarizmi.html

One thought on “Engaging students: Completing the square

  1. Very very interesting. Do you know the book the crest of the peacock which has an excellent section on islamic mathematics.

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