Engaging students: Geometric 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 Victor Acevedo. His topic, from Precalculus: geometric sequences.

green line

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

2048 is a fun game on mobile phones and online that can help introduce the concept of geometric sequences to students. The game is based on the powers of 2 and trying to reach 2^11 (or 2048). Each time two matching tiles are combined it creates the next power of 2. At first glance, it may seem that you are just adding the two tiles, so it doesn’t look like a geometric sequence. The geometric sequence shows up when you look at the terms in the sequence being each new tile that is introduced. For example, the 8 tile comes from two 4 tiles, and each 4 tile comes from two 2 tiles, but the 8 tile is still the third new tile making it the third term in the sequence. There can be a discussion about how many tiles are needed to create the first several terms in the sequence up until 2048.


green line

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

A fun problem that involves geometric sequences is the doubling penny problem. You are asked to decide whether you would rather have lump sum of $1,000,000 given to you upfront or take an offer that involves doubling pennies for the next 30 days. The second offer would involve you taking a single penny on the first day, then doubling that amount each day until the 30th day. At first it seems like a reasonable choice to take the lump sum of $1,000,000, but you have to remember that we are dealing with and exponential or geometric growth in the second offer. On the 30th day you would receive 2^30 pennies which would be $107,374,182.40. That number doesn’t even include the sum of all the other days you were receiving pennies. This would be a great way to explore that difference between linear (or arithmetic) and exponential (or geometric) growth.

green line

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

The paradox of Achilles and the tortoise is an example where geometric sequences are applied with philosophical thought. Achilles is racing a tortoise.  Achilles gives the tortoise a lead because he believes that he is much faster than the tortoise. The paradox arises from the fact that Achilles will have to try and close the gap between him and tortoise while the tortoise keeps moving forward. By having to always get to where the tortoise has been, Achilles can’t catch up. A simplified way of seeing this is by imagining the tortoise already being at the finish line and Achilles just having to close the gap in between him and the tortoise. He does so in a way that cuts the distance between him and the tortoise in half every minute. By doing so, Achilles will never actually catch up since there is always more distance to travel. In this case the common ratio for the geometric sequence would ½ and the end goal would be 0 but it could never be attained.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.