Engaging students: Fitting data to a quadratic function

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 Eduardo Torres Manzanarez. His topic, from Algebra: fitting data to a quadratic function.

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How could you as a teacher create an activity or project that involves your topic?

One interesting project that could be done to invoke quadratic modeling is for students to develop a model that fits a business’ data of labor and output. The basic model of labor and output for a given company can be modeled by a quadratic function and it can be used to determine important figures such as the maximum output, minimum output, maximum labor, and minimum labor. The following image is an example of such a relationship.

In general, people would think that the more labor and resources used at the exact same time results in more product. If you have more product produced, then you accumulate more profit. These ideas are not wrong to be thought of but a key aspect that is missed in the thought process is that of land or otherwise known as workspace. The more employees you hire, the more space required so that these individuals can produce but space is limited just like any other resource. Lack of space inhibits production flow and therefore decreases product, decreases profits, and increases cost through increased wages. All of this does not occur until you pass the maximum of the model. So, both of these behaviors are shown and exhibited by a quadratic function. Students can realize these notions of labor and production by analyzing data of various companies. An activity that could show such a relationship in action is having one student create a small particular product such as a card with a particular design and produce as many as they can in a certain amount of time, with certain resources, and a workspace. Record the number of cards produced. Next, have two students create cards with the exact same time, resources, and workspace and record the amount produced. As more students are involved, the behavior of labor and production will be shown to be direct and then inverse to each other. The final piece for this activity would be for students to find realize what function seems to have the same shape as the data on a graph and for them to manipulate the function so that it fits on the data. Turns out the function will have to be a quadratic function.

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B1) How can this topic be used in your students’ future courses in mathematics or science?

Fitting data onto a quadratic function is useful in analyzing behavior between variables. In various mathematical courses, data is provided but in science usually one must come up with data through an experiment. Particularly there are many situations in physics where this is the case and relationships have to be modeled by fitting data onto various functions. Doing quadratic modeling and even linear modeling early on is a good introduction into other models that are used in the many fields of science. Not every experiment is recorded perfectly and hence there can never be a perfect model. Through analytical skills presented in this topic, it scaffolds students to find a model for bacteria growth, a model for velocity, a model for the position of an object, and a model for nuclear decay in the future and what to expect the behavior of these models to be. This topic in combination with limits from calculus builds onto piece-wise models for probability and statistics.

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E1) How can technology be used to effectively engage students with this topic?

Technology such as graphing calculators, Excel, Desmos, and TI-Nspires can be used to create the best model possible based on least-squares regression. This technology is engaging in developing models, not because of the lack of convoluted math that deals with squaring differences but rather the focus on analyzing particular models such as a quadratic model. They could be engaging for students when students can input particular sets of data they find interesting and need a way to model it. Furthermore, students can use technology to develop beautiful graphs that can be easily interpreted than rough sketches of these models. TI-Nspire software can be used by a teacher to send a particular data set to students and their own TI-Nspires. Students can then insert a quadratic function on the graphing application and manipulate the function by changing its overall shape by the mouse cursor. This allows students to dictate their own particular models and allows for comparison between models as to which is more accurate for particular data.





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