Engaging students: Square roots

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 again comes from my former student Julie Thompson. Her topic, from Algebra: square roots.

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

When I think of square roots my mind immediately takes me to the very popular movie ‘The Wizard of Oz’. In a scene near the end of the movie, the scarecrow incorrectly states the Pythagorean Theorem. He states it so fast that some people may not have time to process what he is saying is incorrect. The theorem he states is as follows: “The sum of the square roots of any two sides of an isosceles triangle is equal to the square root of the remaining side.” There are a couple things wrong with this statement. First of all, the Pythagorean Theorem is based on right triangles, not isosceles. Secondly, we take the square of two specific sides and set it equal to the square of the third side, not the square root of ‘any two sides’ equal to the square root of the remaining side.

As an engage, I think it would be very interesting to first show the clip of the movie to capture my students’ attention, and then have a discussion about why the theorem is wrong and what the correct theorem actually is!

Also, I found an awesome worksheet from Mathbits that is all about this scene from the movie and goes through a couple examples that shows why his theorem can’t work, and also allows students to prove why it is false!!

Click to access OzMath.pdf


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

A very engaging website that was actually introduced to me in college: KAHOOT! I first played Kahoot in my TNTX 1200 class here at UNT. It was very exciting and fun for me, as a college student, to play, so I know middle and high school students will love it as well. Kahoot is an online quiz game where students use their own technology to join in to the game with a game pin provided by the teacher. Students get to give themselves a game nickname which makes it fun to be able to see their name pop up on the scoreboard. Then a variety of questions on the topic are asked, one at a time, with a time limit for the students to answer in (usually about 20-30 seconds). This is a quick game that can be used as an engage at the beginning of class to get students thinking and excited about the topic for the day. In this case…square roots! I found a great Kahoot created by ‘remangum’ that focuses on finding square roots of numbers (it throws in a couple cube roots). Once you get passed about 7 questions, they throw some variables into the mix. One of the question asks to find d:

Sqrt (d*d)=9, where * is multiplication. In this case, d=9 because sqrt(81)=9. I like this because it allows the students to think a little harder and problem solve.

Here is the link: https://play.kahoot.it/#/?quizId=8ed37283-e3fc-4389-a8ed-ff7200993731



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

Many students who enter middle school/ early high school wonder why they have to learn all these pointless concepts such as square roots and the order of operations. They might even think to themselves, “When will I ever need to know this in the future when I have a job?” According to homeschoolmath.net, “The answer is that you need algebra in any occupation that requires higher education, such as computer science, electronics, engineering, medicine (doctors), trade, commerce analysts, ALL scientists, etc. In short, if someone is even considering higher education, they should study algebra. You also need algebra to take your SAT test or GED.” This is very important to let students know, but they may not believe you or care. For instance, they may say that’s true for math and science professions, but they are planning to major in something totally different and they won’t need math. Math actually can be useful in other fields, but for the sake of this question, I will stick to math and science.

In their future classes, such as Algebra II, they will be using things such as the quadratic formula. This will involve plugging in and simplifying things under a radical, as well as dealing with square roots in whole equations rather than just on their own. Also, understanding the nature of square roots will help them in future courses such as PreCalculus when they must study all the characteristics of the square root function. As an engaging aspect to all of this, I may mention that, “Studying algebra also has a benefit of developing logical thinking and problem solving skills. Algebra can increase your intelligence! (Actually, studying any math topic — even elementary math — can do that, if it is presented and taught in such a manner as to develop a person’s thinking.)”

Quotations from:    https://www.homeschoolmath.net/teaching/why_need_square_roots.php




A Visual Approach to Simplifying Radicals (A Get Out of Jail Free Card). (2012, January 15). Retrieved September 09, 2016, from https://reflectionsinthewhy.wordpress.com/2012/01/15/a-visual-approach-to-simplifying-radicals-a-get-out-of-jail-free-card/

Babylon and the Square Root of 2. (2016). Retrieved September 09, 2016, from https://johncarlosbaez.wordpress.com/2011/12/02/babylon-and-the-square-root-of-2/

Buncombe, A. (16, April 4). Square Root Day: There are only nine days this century like this. Retrieved September 09, 2016, from http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/square-root-day-there-are-only-nine-days-this-century-like-this-a6967991.html

Fowler, D., & Robson, E. (n.d.). Square Root Approximations in Old Babylonian Mathematics: YBC 7289 in Context. Historical Mathematica, 366-378. Retrieved September 9, 2016, from https://math.berkeley.edu/~lpachter/128a/Babylonian_sqrt2.pdf.

Mark, J. J. (2011, April 28). Babylon. Retrieved September 09, 2016, from http://www.ancient.eu/babylon/


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