Engaging students: Using 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 Gary Sin. His topic, from Precalculus: using sequences.

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How has this topic appeared in pop culture?

Probably the most used sequence in pop culture or art is the Fibonacci sequence. I learned about the Fibonacci sequence myself from “The Da Vinci Code” by Dan Brown. The Fibonacci sequence has been explored by many mathematicians over the years and if we divided 2 successive numbers (larger divided by the smaller), the limit of the ratio is the golden ratio.

The golden ratio was heavily believed to be seen in nature itself. Naturally people were fascinated that such a number could be seen everywhere in nature. Many artists based their art on the golden ratio, believing that the ratio is aesthetically pleasing. A great example is the polyhedral seen in “’The Sacrament of the  Last Supper” by  Salvador Dali. Modern architects also utilize the golden ratio in their builds. It was also believed that the proportions of the different parts of the limbs of humans are in the golden ratio.

The Fibonacci Sequence is fascinating and is a great way to demonstrate to students the beauty in math and how even artists are influenced by it and is a beautiful link to how mathematics can also be seen in nature.

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

Sequences are fun to play around with as some sequences are infinite or finite and the series they form could converge to a number. Students could be given a starting sequence and are asked to find the nth term of a sequence. I could also point out how sequences can be seen in something as simple as the list of natural numbers, multiples of positive integers.

Students could also be given both arithmetic and geometric sequences and plot them on a graph accordingly to see if the sequence progresses linearly or exponentially. I could also introduce sequences that are neither and that are divergent.

One of the important usefulness of sequences is how it relates to limits of a sequence. I could provide a fun riddle for students to figure out the limit of a sequence using word problems like Zeno’s Paradox. Students can figure out the rule of a sequence and plot it on the graph to see how it converges toward a number.

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How does this topic extend what your students’ should have learned in previous courses?

The most amazing thing about sequences is that students use them from the moment they learn how to count as kids. Natural numbers are sequences that are obtained by adding 1 to the previous term. Naturally, the multiples of positive integers are also sequences. Students will also realize that the powers of a base are geometric sequences. When learning about plotting functions, linear, quadratic or cubic; the students are basically using sequences and basic pattern recognition to create tables of values and observing the rate of change.

Sequences are especially important in bridging a simple concept like a sequence to limits of functions, limits of infinity are an important abstract idea that provokes the students to think more about how a function would act if it  kept going forever.

When determining a recursive of exclusive formula for sequences, students will also have to apply basic algebra, order of operations, arithmetic, exponents in order to create or prove that a formula works for a sequence.

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