Usefulness of Mathematical Symbols in a Fight

Source: https://xkcd.com/2343/

Xmas Tree, Ymas Tree, Zmas Tree

I’m not gonna lie… I wish I had an ugly Christmas sweater with this theme.

Source: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10157861645601449&set=a.115338471448&type=3&theater

Is 8,675,309 prime?

This semester, to remind today’s college students of the greatness of the 1980s: I made my class answer the following question on an exam:

Jenny wants to find out if 8,675,309 is prime. In a few sentences, describe an efficient procedure she could use to answer this question.

Amazingly, it turns out that 8,675,309 is a prime number, though I seriously doubt that Tommy Tutone had this fact in mind when he wrote the classic 80s song. To my great disappointment, nobody noticed (or at least admitted to noticing) the cultural significance of this number on the exam.

Naturally, I didn’t expect my students to actually determine this on a timed exam, and I put the following elaboration on the exam:

Although Jenny has a calculator, answering this question would take more than 80 minutes. So don’t try to find out if it’s prime or not! Instead, describe a procedure for answering the question and provide enough details so that Jenny could follow your directions. Since Jenny will need a lot of time, your procedure should be efficient, or as quick as possible (even if it takes hours).

Your answer should include directions for making a certain large list of prime numbers. Be sure to describe the boundaries of this list and how this list can be made efficiently. Hint: We described an algorithm for making such lists of prime numbers in class. (Again, do not actually construct this list.)

I thought it was reasonable to expect them to describe a process for making this determination on a timed exam.  Cultural allusions aside, I thought this was a good way of checking that they conceptually understood certain facts about prime numbers that we had discussed in class:

  • First, to check if 8,675,309 is prime, it suffices to check if any of positive prime numbers less than or equal to \sqrt{8,675,309} \approx 2,945.387\dots are factors of 8,675,309.
  • To make this list of prime numbers, the sieve of Eratosthenes can be employed. Notice that \sqrt{2,945} \approx 54.271\dots, and the largest prime number less than this number is 53. Therefore, to make this list of prime numbers, one could write down the numbers between 2 and 2,945 and then eliminate the nontrivial multiples of the prime numbers 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, \dots 53.
  • If none of the resulting prime numbers are factors of 8,675,309, then we can conclude that 8,675,309 is prime.

I was happy that most of my class got this answer either entirely correct or mostly correct… and I was also glad that nobody suggested the efficient one-sentence procedure “Google Is 8,675,309 prime?.”

Engaging students: Dot product

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 Haley Higginbotham. Her topic, from Precalculus: computing a dot product.

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A1. What interesting (i.e., uncontrived) word problems using this topic can your students do now?

For the dot product of vectors, there are lots of word problems regarding physics that you could do that students would find more interesting than word problems self-contained in math. For example, you could say that “you are trying to hit your teacher with a water balloon. Your first try had a certain velocity and distance in front of the teacher, and your second try had a certain velocity and distance behind the teacher. In order to hit the teacher, you will need half the angle between the vectors to hit the teacher. Figure out what angle and velocity you would need to hit the teacher with a water balloon.” This could also turn into an activity, where the students get to test their guesses to see if they can get close enough. There would be need to be something they could use to accurately catapult their water balloon, but that’s a different problem entirely.

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

The dot product (and vectors in general) can be seen in physics, calculus 3, linear algebra, vector calculus, numerical analysis, and a bunch of other upper level math and science courses. Of course, not all students are going to be taking upper level math and science courses. However, out of the students going into STEM majors, they most assuredly will see the dot product and by seeing how vectors work earlier in their math careers, they will be more comfortable manipulating something they have already seen before. Also, the dot product and vectors are very useful as a tool to use in upper levels of math and in many different applications of engineering and computer science. In the game design, the dot product can be used to help engineer objects movements in the game work more realistically as a single unit and in relation to other objects.

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E1. How can technology be used?

Geogebra is a great site to use since it has a tool https://www.geogebra.org/m/PGHaDjmD that will visually show you how the dot product works. It’s awesome because you get multiple different representations side by side, so that students who understand at different levels can all get something from this visual, interactive program. They can see how changing the position of the vectors changes the dot product and how it relates to the angle between the two vectors. Also, students will most likely be more engaged with this activity than just doing a bunch of examples with no real concept of how all of these pieces relate together which is not good in terms of promoting conceptual understanding. I think you could also use Desmos as an activity builder to make something similar to the above tool if students find the tool confusing to either use or look at.

References:
https://hackernoon.com/applications-of-the-vector-dot-product-for-game-programming-12443ac91f16

 

 

Happy Pythagoras Day!

Happy Pythagoras Day! Today is 12/16/20 (or 16/12/20 in other parts of the world), and 12^2 + 16^2 = 20^2.

righttriangle121620

Engaging students: Powers and exponents

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 Andrew Cory. His topic, from Pre-Algebra: powers and exponents.

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

Exponents are just an easier way to multiply the same number by itself numerous times. They extend on the process of multiplication and allow students to solve expressions such as 2*2*2*2 quicker by writing them as 2^4. They are used constantly in future math courses, almost as commonly as addition and multiplication. Exponential functions start becoming more and more common as well. They’re used to calculate things such as compounding interest, or growth and decay. They also become common when finding formulas for sequences and series.
In science courses, exponents are often used for writing very small or very large numbers so that calculations are easier. Large masses such as the mass of the sun are written with scientific notation. This also applies for very small measurements, such as the length of a proton. They are also used in other ways such as bacteria growth or disease spread which apply directly to biology.

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C2. How has this topic appeared in pop culture (movies, TV, current music, video games, etc.)?

Any movie or TV show about zombies or disease outbreaks can be referenced when talking about exponents, and exponential growth. The rate at which disease outbreaks spread is exponential, because each person getting infected has a chance to get more people sick and it spreads very quickly. This can be a fun activity to demonstrate with a class to show how quickly something can spread. A teacher can select one student to go tap another student on the shoulder, then that student also gets up and walks around and taps another student. With students getting up and “infecting” others, more and more people stand up with each round, showing how many people can be affected at once when half the class is already up and then the other half gets up in one round.

 

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D1. What interesting things can you say about the people who contributed to the discovery and/or the development of this topic?

Euclid discovered exponents and used them in his geometric equations, he was also the first to use the term power to describe the square of a line. Rene Descartes was the first to use the traditional notation we use for exponents today. His version won out because of conceptual clarity. There isn’t exactly one person credited with creating exponents, it is more of a collaborative thing that got added onto over time. Archimedes discovered and proved the property of powers that states 10^a * 10^b = 10^{a+b}. Robert Recorde, the mathematician who created the equals sign, used some interesting terms to describe higher powers, such as zenzizenzic for the fourth power and zenzizenzizenzic for the eighth power. At a time, some mathematicians, such as Isaac Newton, would only use exponents for powers 3 and greater. Expressing things like polynomials as ax3+bxx+cx+d.

References:

Berlinghoff, W. P., & Gouvêa, F. Q. (2015). Math through the ages: A gentle history for teachers and others.

Wikipedia contributors. (2019, August 28). Exponentiation. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 00:24, August 31, 2019, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Exponentiation&oldid=912805138

 

Engaging students: Absolute value

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 Haley Higginbotham. Her topic, from Pre-Algebra: absolute value.

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A2. How could you as a teacher create an activity or project that involves your topic?

A fun activity to do would be to have a graph on the floor taped out and divide people into pairs and give them sets of points to graph. Then, they would have to measure how far away they were from origin. I would ask if it mattered that the x and y values were sometimes negative, and why or why not. Hopefully they’ll respond that since they were measuring distance, and distance isn’t negative, then it didn’t matter if the x and y values were negative. And that would lead into the idea that absolute value refers to the distance from origin, and it doesn’t just “make the negative a positive number.” If I were to teach absolute value, I would very much want to emphasize this point because even though it seems like the absolute value just magically gets rid of negative signs, it is important to know what it actually is.

 

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D2. How was this topic adopted by the mathematical community?

Originally, the term absolute value came from Jean-Robert Argand’s term ‘module’ (unit of measure in French). The term wasn’t commonly used in English until about 1857. The standard notation of vertical bars came from Karl Weierstrass in the time intermediate time. Now, the notation of vertical bars is used for different purposes in other areas of mathematics, like determinants and cardinality, which don’t relate to distance. However, the idea of absolute value (or magnitude) extends to the realm of physics, and science in general. Generally, when you want to know how far an object has traveled, but it has returned to its original position, you take the magnitude of the distance. In physics, you often want to find the magnitude of a vector, in order to know the distance. It’s also helpful because you can extend this idea into multiple dimensions, even though the calculations can become longer than just removing the negative sign.

 

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E1. How can technology be used?

GeoGebra’s graphing calculator is fantastic for math in general because it has a wide range of functionality besides just graphing. In terms of absolute value, you can graph the absolute value function easily and it will actually pop up with the vertical bars next to it and not just abs(x) which is good since then student can get more familiar with the notation. GeoGebra allows you to measure distance between points, which is really the important tool in this case. You can easily plot different points and measure the distances to verify more accurately that the distances are the same regardless of sign. GeoGebra is also fairly intuitive to use, which is good if you have students who aren’t very familiar with using technology. Plus, it’s just plain fun to play with and students will love the fact they don’t have to graph a bunch of points and functions by hand.

References:
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Absolute_value
geogebra.org/graphing

Engaging students: Arithmetic series

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 Eduardo Torres Manzanarez. His topic, from Precalculus: arithmetic series.

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A1) What interesting (i.e., uncontrived) word problems using this topic can your students do now?

One interesting word problem to ask students to get them thinking about the idea of an arithmetic series, specifically a finite arithmetic series, is to have students come up with the total sum of the first 100 positive integers larger than 0 (i.e., 1 to 100) without actually adding all the integers up. Students will probably not figure out the total sum without adding the integers up one by one but if students are shown these numbers physically as cards labeled then a few might notice that the numbers taken at each end form pairs that add to the same sum. Turns out that the total sum is the number of pairs multiplied by 101. It can be explained to students that the 101 results from taking the first term and the last term (i.e., 1 and 100) and seeing that the sum is 101. This is true when we add 2 and 99, 3 and 98, 4, and 97, and so on. Hence, we will have 50 pairs since we have 100 numbers and so we have 50*101 as our sum. This problem can be extended to the story Gauss and how he apparently solved this problem as a child relatively fast and the teacher pointed out this question to them because he was apparently lazy. Now, this can be extended to adding all the integers from 1 to 200 and so on and having students come up with a general formula. Students can then think about an odd number of integers and see if that formula holds. Lastly, the connection between adding a number of terms with the same difference between each term is defined as an arithmetic series and so all the problems they have been doing are arithmetic problems in disguise.

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B2) How can this topic be used in your students’ future courses in mathematics and science?

This topic is heavily used when discussing convergence in calculus. It provides insight into the validity that every series has a total sum that can be written as a number. Turns out this is true for all series that are finite but when discussing infinite series, it can be true of false that it converges to an actual value. So, students will have to ponder this idea for infinite arithmetic series in the future. Also, arithmetic series can be used to model certain situations in science within biology and physics. Thinking about arithmetic series provides information in tackling other types of series such as geometric in terms of behavior and solution. How does a geometric series behave? Well, each term increases with a common ratio instead of a common addition. Does the finite series converge? Yes, we know that every finite series does and this one basically behaves like the arithmetic in which we can easily find the total sum using a formula. Does the infinite series converge? Well, just like an arithmetic series it depends on the situation and the terms within the problem.

 

 

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C1) How has this topic appeared in pop culture (movies, TV, current music, video games, etc.)?

This topic has appeared in a particular movie called “All Quiet on the Western Front” which was released in 1930 and is an adaption of the novel that was published in 1929 by Erich Remarque. Within this movie, there is a scene in which a soldier states the formula for finding the sum of an arithmetic series. The soldier specifically states the formula S = A + N*(L / 2) and this corresponds to arithmetic series in accordance with the area of a rectangle and the area of a triangle. This is in a way a longer version of the short-hand formula we use today. One particular statement made from the soldier is that he mentions how beautiful the formula is. For some students, they can probably relate to the idea that something so complicated as adding 100000 terms that have a constant difference can be found using a short formula. Many problems in mathematics seem complicated at first in accordance with doing “grunt work” but many of them have beautiful solutions to them.

 

The perfect masks for my family

If you’d like these for yourself, I bought these at https://www.teachloveinspire.net/campaigns/-/-/stores/math-teacher/tc-d-28062018-m-math-funny?retailProductCode=7684B076E6A1E6-B5149C444C3B-S3CFM750-TPS1900-BLK&fbclid=IwAR3QMQawI3OJ2T81eXxobbNq61iRjEQ5O-3oOm2b0Eml7mM2alIwlpjgMrE