Engaging students: Solving systems of linear inequalities

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 Angelica Albarracin. Her topic, from Algebra: solving linear systems of inequalities. green line What interesting (i.e., uncontrived) word problems using this topic can your students do now? One example of an interesting word problem students can do using this topic is based on a technique astronomers use to learn about celestial bodies. Being able to assess the number of craters a body has on its surface can reveal information about the body’s age, as well as its history of impacts. In comparing the number of craters two bodies have experienced over time, astronomers are able to compare their lifetimes and hypothesize reasons for differences and/or similarities. This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is crater1.png
Taken from https://spacemath.gsfc.nasa.gov/algebra2.html
Another example of an interesting word problem pertains to determining whether a specific phone plan is best for you. When choosing between certain plans, individuals may have to decide between a higher flat fee and a lower rate per minute or a lower flat fee and a higher rate per minute. In many cases, the answer may not be so obvious so to be able to figure out which is the best deal can prove to be a very helpful money saver. Of course, the answer to this question depends on how many minutes an individual plans to use a month, but we can use linear systems of equations to find out at which point do the plans differ, and thus finding a starting point to the solution. This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is phone1.png This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is phone2.png Taken from https://students.ga.desire2learn.com/d2l/lor/viewer/viewFile.d2lfile/1798/12938/Algebra_ReasoningwithEquationsandInequalities12.html green line How does this topic extend what your students should have learned in previous courses? In previous courses, students should have learned about x and y intercepts and solving linear equations. Solving linear systems of equations is and extension of x and y intercepts because one of the major components in this topic is finding the exact point at which two different linear functions meet. We can think of a typical problem of finding the x or y intercept of a linear function in terms of a system. For example, we can let our first equation be y = 3x + 2 and the second be y = 0. From this we can clearly see that our second equation is the x-axis, and as we are trying to find the point of intersection between a linear function, we end up calculating the x-intercept of our first function. It is also not difficult to see that solving linear systems of equations serves as an extension to solving linear equations. When employing the method of substitution, you must solve for one variable, in terms of the other. This process requires the student to know how to solve singular linear equations, and to apply their solutions through substitution. We can also see an extension regarding graphing linear equations. When solving linear systems of equations by graphing, one must graph each individual linear equation. Once the two individual equations are graphed, the solution can be found by observing the point at which the two equations intersect if at all. green line How can technology be used to effectively engage students with this topic? Desmos is widely regarded for its creative lessons that integrate mathematical topics in fun and engaging ways. For the topic of solving systems of linear equations with graphing and substitution, one such Desmos activity is titled Playing Catch-Up. The first two slides set up an engaging premise where a video compares the running speed of an average person and a professional runner. Further along the activity, the student can see a graphical representation of their speeds and is able to make a prediction as to whether they think one person will pass the other. Aside from being able to see an animated graph that corresponds to the information given in the video, there is also an interesting short answer feature on the first slide. This feature allows the student to ask a question regarding the situation they are presented with in the video. The most helpful part of this feature is that not only can the teacher view the student responses, but also the students can see each other’s responses. This allows for students to communicate with each other in a controlled environment and lead the way for further elaboration on some of the most asked questions. This specific Desmos activity places much of its emphasis on solving systems of linear equations through graphing, however substitution can still have a place in technology. Typically, when students are introduced to this concept, they are taught the graphing method first as its visual component aids in understanding. Graphing isn’t always reasonable however as it is time consuming and you may be faced with equations that are difficult to graph. By using technology such as the Desmos graphing calculator, the teacher can show the student of an example of a linear system of equations that would be unreasonable to solve by graphing. This gives the students reasoning as to why learning another method such as substitution is necessary while also making them consider a possibility that they might not have thought of before. References: https://spacemath.gsfc.nasa.gov/algebra2.html https://students.ga.desire2learn.com/d2l/lor/viewer/viewFile.d2lfile/1798/12938/Algebra_ReasoningwithEquationsandInequalities12.html https://teacher.desmos.com/activitybuilder/custom/5818fb314e762b653c3bf0f3
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