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 Victor Acevedo. His topic, from Algebra: completing the square.

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

Completing the square is an Algebra II topic that builds on students’ prior knowledge of areas and shapes. With a given quadratic equation, students can make a visual representation of what it looks like by using Alge-blocks or Algebra tiles.  The x-squared term becomes the starting point for the model. The x term gets split in half and placed on 2 adjacent sides of the x-squared term. The next step in the process requires the student fill in what is missing of the square. Students use their knowledge of squares and packing to complete the square and make the quadratic equation easily factorable.

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

Eddie Woo is an Australian High School Math teacher that also uploads videos to YouTube. He uploads his class lectures that he thinks will help others appreciate and understand math concepts better. He made this video where he makes a visual representation and informal proof for why the “Completing the Square” method works. By using the student’s knowledge of equations and shapes he can construct the square that appears when completing the square for a quadratic equation. The moment that he puts the blocks together you can hear the amazement by his students. Many of his videos have this some feeling to them in which he explores the beauty of math and makes logical connections between what students already know and what they need to know.

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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?

Completing the square was a method that was discovered in order to solve quadratic equations. This method was discovered by Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi, a Persian mathematician, astronomer, and geographer. Al-Khwarizmi, also known as the father of Algebra, wrote “The Compendious Book on Calculation by Completion and Balancing” in which he presented systematic solutions to solving linear and quadratic equations. At the time Al-Khwarizmi’s goal was to simplify any quadratic equation to be expressed with squares, roots, and numbers (ax2, bx, and c constants respectively) to one of six standard forms. The method of completing the square is a simple one to follow, but it had not been put into words formally until Al-Khwarizmi laid out the steps. In his book he progressed through solving simple linear equations and then simple quadratic equations that only required roots. This method only came up once he got to quadratic equations of the form ax2+bx+c=0 that could not be solved simply with roots. The discovery of this method leads to a simpler way of visually representing quadratic equations and applying it to parabolic functions.



Hughes, Barnabas. “Completing the Square – Quadratics Using Addition.” MAA Press | Periodical | Convergence, Mathematical Association of America, Aug. 2011, www.maa.org/press/periodicals/convergence/completing-the-square-quadratics-using-addition.

Mastin, Luke. “Al-Khwarizmi – Islamic Mathematics – The Story of Mathematics.” Egyptian Mathematics – The Story of Mathematics, 2010, www.storyofmathematics.com/islamic_alkhwarizmi.html.

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