Engaging students: Writing if-then statements in conditional form

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 Sarah McCall. Her topic, from Geometry: writing if-then statements in conditional form.

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What interesting (i.e., uncontrived) word problems using this topic can your students do now?

For this exercise, I would like to kill two bird with one stone (engage students as well as deepen their understanding) by choosing word problems that are funny and have to do with topics that students are familiar with. For this activity, students could work individually or in groups to construct if then statements out of two given clauses, and then construct two if then statements out of their own clauses: one true and one false. This activity would encourage students to be as funny and outrageous as possible. For example:

1. Construct a logical if then statement using the following:
I do not take a nap today.
I will cry about my homework.
2. Construct a logical if then statement using the following:
Miss. McCall’s dog is the cutest dog on the planet. Pigs can fly.
3. Construct a false if then statement using any two clauses you can think of.
4. Construct a true if then statement using any two clauses you can think of.

Questions 3 and 4 are important because they engage students by requiring them to use their creativity and humor, as well as their logical skills. Students should ask themselves, if I want my entire statement to be false, should my “if” and “then” clauses be true or false? This could also be used as a class project where students present their creations to the class afterwards, which would further facilitate student understanding and involvement.


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

To get students engaged in this material, I would like to switch it up from the usual mathematics lesson by introducing students to a whole new side of mathematics: logic! For this activity, students would work in groups to solve the following riddle (citations listed below):

Somewhere on an island far far away, there are two large families quite different from you and I. The people in one of these families, the Truthtellers, tell the truth all the time, even when they’d rather lie. They can’t say something false even by mistake! And the other family, the Liars, always lies, even when they wish they could tell truth. Everything they say is a lie. Now suppose you meet two people on this island: Ashley and Amanda, and Ashley tells you “We are both liars”. What family is Ashley from? What about Amanda?

The goal of this exercise is to get students to use their logical intuition and eventually conclude that Ashley must be a Liar, because if she is a Truthteller, then she cannot say she is a Liar. Hopefully students will be introduced to how to communicate their ideas in a simple if then format and realize that logic is fairly intuitive and natural.

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How can this topic be used in your students’ future courses in mathematics or science?

Many students often worry (or grumble) that they may never use the topics they are learning in geometry/math in the real world. However, as more and more students are considering jobs in STEM fields, I think it is important to acknowledge that these if then statements are not going away! Not only are if then statements used to develop hypotheses for science experiments, they will also be used in upper level math courses like calculus. Learning how to apply if then logic to everyday situations as well as theorems is a skill that will be helpful to all students who plan to go on to any STEM, medical, scientific or research fields. I believe starting off a lesson on if then logic with these reminders would be helpful in getting students to be engaged in their own learning, because they will see that their learning now will affect them later on.

Reference: http://thinkmath.edc.org/resource/logic-puzzles



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