Engaging students: Finding the area of a square or rectangle

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 Christian Oropeza. His topic, from Geometry: finding the area of a square or rectangle.

How can this topic be used in your studentsâ€™ future courses in mathematics or science?

Finding the area of a square or rectangle comes up again later in Geometry when solving for the surface area of a prism. The reason behind this is because any n-sided prism, where n is the number of sides the base of the prism has, will have n many squares or rectangles. Therefore, in order to calculate the surface area of any prism, the use of finding the area of a square or rectangle is required (Reference 1). Another course that involves this topic is Calculus. When approximating the area under a curve, one strategy is to use left or right endpoint approximation which is just the sum of the areas of the rectangles under or over the curve (Reference 2). This topic is also used in physics when covering measurements. The idea of finding the area of a square or rectangle in the measurements section is to precisely and accurately find the area.

How has this topic appeared in the news?

Steiner Ranch is a hair studio that just recently added 1600 square feet, thus bringing their total to 3468 square feet. With the addition of more space the studio now holds: 19 stylist chairs, 8 shampoo bowls, 3 restrooms, and a color mixing room. All in all, this could not have been done without the use of finding the area of a square or rectangle because then the owner, Brian Charles, would not know how much of each studio equipment would be able to fit in a way that was fitting for him (Reference 3). In other news, state deputies of the Legislative Assembly of Rondonia decided to try creating 11 new protected area in the Brazilian Amazon, which amounted to a total of 2,316 square miles. Therefore, the use of the area of a square was used to determine how much area would go to the new protected areas. However, the bacanda ruralista agribusiness lobby opposed this decision and passed a bill that did not allow the process of making the protected areas (Reference 4).

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

During 570-495 BC, the use of finding the area of a square impacted math in Greek culture. More specifically, a man by the name of Pythagoras created what is known now to be the Pythagorean Theorem. He discovered this theorem by noticing that the area of the square created by the hypotenuse of a right triangle is equal to the sum of the area of the squares created by the other two sides of the same right triangle (Reference 5). Also, there were different cultures who had discovered the same formula as the Pythagorean Theorem, but were not the first to publish their findings. These different cultures include: Mesopotamian, Indian, and Chinese (Reference 6). Finding the area of a square or a rectangle comes up immensely in computing the cost for installation of hardwood floors. The cost is computed by charging the customer for the price of each square foot of wood used and the labor for each square foot of wood installed (Reference 7).

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