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 Danielle Pope. Her topic, from Precalculus: arithmetic sequences.

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

In the future, the topic of arithmetic sequences will be built upon by introducing another sequence, the geometric sequence. A geometric sequence is just a sequence of multiples instead of increasing by a constant. The next topic introduced will be finding the sum of a sequence of numbers. This will be introduced as a series. The summation symbol will also be introduced to kids and they will learn that new notation. Summations will bring along many formulas for finding the leading coefficient and will show up later in Calculus 2 classes when talking about convergence and divergence of series. Another one of the things that kids will always be doing with sequences and series is finding the general form of a given sequence or series. Through school, this idea will never change the sequence and series will just get harder to identify.
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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? (You might want to consult Math Through The Ages.)

An arithmetic sequence is a set of numbers that have a constant difference between each term. One of the main people that come up when researching these sequences is Carl Friedrich Gauss. Many math-loving people know him as the “Prince of mathematicians”. He is famous for coming up with the equations to solve the sum of an arithmetic sequence. This comes as no surprise that he came up with this formula. The surprising thing about this realization is that he made it at an age young enough to still be in grade school. Stories say that Gauss was asked to solve for the sum on the board in grade school and used the formula of M ( M + 1 ) / 2 to solve for the correct answer. This just goes to show that anyone can, in fact, contribute to the greater good of mathematics at any age.

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How have different cultures throughout time used this topic in their society?

One of the first civilizations that utilized sequences was the Egyptians. They used the sequence of multiples of 2 to do their multiplication. The basic sequence is 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, … and we are trying to solve 24 x 13 with the process pictured below.

The process behind this is to write the multiple of 2 sequences down the left side of the paper until you reach the largest multiple of 2 without going over the second number being multiplied, in this case, 13. Once that is done set the first term on the right side equal to the first number being multiplied, in this case, 24. Next, multiply the right side by 4 until you get the same amount of terms on the left side. Lastly find the sum of numbers on the left that add to 13, which are 1, 4, and 8. Add the corresponding multiples from the side, 24 + 96 + 192 = 312. The right side sum of the corresponding numbers checked on the left gives the product of the original problem, i.e. 312. This trick is cool to show just on its own but it’s also cool because it uses something as simple as a specific list of numbers aka a sequence of numbers.




Click to access egyptian_arithmetic.pdf

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