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 Ashlyn Farley. Her topic, from Pre-Algebra: powers and exponents.

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One class activity that will engage students while reviewing and/or teaching Exponent/Power concepts is “Marshmallow and Toothpicks.” This activity can be used for teaching the basic of exponents, as well as exponent laws. The idea is that the toothpicks are different colors, and the different colors represent different bases, thus the same color means it’s the same base. The marshmallows represent the exponent, i.e. the number of times the student needs to multiply the base. By following a worksheet of questions, the students should be able to solve exponent problems physically, visually, and abstractly. This activity, I believe, is best done with partners or groups so that the students can discuss how they think the exponents/exponent laws work. After the activity, the students are also able to eat their marshmallows, which encourages the students to participate and complete their work.

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Exponents are used in functions, equations, and expressions throughout math, thus having a deep understanding of exponents and their laws is very important. By fully mastering exponents and exponent laws, the students will be able to more easily grasp more difficult material that uses these concepts. Some specific ideas that use exponents and/or exponent laws in future math courses are: multiplying polynomials, finding the volume and surface area of prisms and cylinders, as well as computing the composition of two functions. Exponents are also used in many other situations than just math, such as in science or even in careers. Some careers that consistently use exponents and/or exponent laws are: Bankers, Computer Programmers, Mechanics, Plumbers, and many more.

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How can technology (YouTube, Khan Academy [khanacademy.org], Vi Hart, Geometers Sketchpad, graphing calculators, etc.) be used to effectively engage students with this topic?

An easy way to introduce students who have never seen exponents or exponential growth before is to use a graphing calculator. By plugging in an exponential function into the calculator and viewing the graph and zooming out, students can easily see how quickly numbers start to get The website Legends of Learning focuses on creating educational games for students in kindergarten through 9th grade. One game that goes over exponents, as well as the exponent laws, is Expodyssey. This game has the students solve problems to “fix” a spaceship to get back to Earth. The problems are built upon each other, so it starts by having the student answer what an exponent is, then what multiplying two exponents same base is, and keeps building from there. Each concept has multiple problems to be solved before moving on so that the students can show their mastery of the content. I believe that this game also helps improve cognitive skills by having the students do various activities simultaneously, such as calculating, reading, maneuvering elements and/or filling answers as required.

References:
Blog: Number Dyslexia
Link: https://numberdyslexia.com/top-7-games-for-understanding-math-exponents/

Engaging students: Finding prime factorizations

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 Bri Del Pozzo. Her topic, from Pre-Algebra: finding prime factorizations.

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

An activity that I would create for my students involving Prime Factorization is based on an example that I saw on Pinterest. I would prepare an activity where students would be given a picture of a tree and assigned a two-digit number. I would then have students decorate their tree and at the base of the tree, they would write their assigned number. Then, as the roots expand down, students would be able to write the factors of their number as a factor tree until they are left with only prime factors (based on the image from https://www.hmhco.com/blog/teaching-prime-factorization-of-36). In the example from Pinterest, the teacher focused on finding the greatest common divisors between two numbers and used the factors trees as guidance. For my activity, I would assign some students the same number and emphasize that some numbers (such as 24, 36, 72, etc.) can be factored in multiple ways, so the roots of the trees could look different depending on how the student decides to factor their number.

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

There are a few ways that Prime Factorization can be used in my students’ future math courses. Prime Factorization is incredibly useful when learning how to simplify fractions. By practicing Prime Factorization, students become more familiar with the factors of large numbers, which becomes helpful when simplifying fractions. In the instance that a fraction is not in its simplest form, students will have an easier time recognizing such and will feel more confident in simplifying the fraction. Additionally, Prime Factorization prepares students for finding Greatest Common Divisors. Knowing how to find Greatest Common Divisors can be useful when solving real-world problems as well as in simplifying fractions. At a higher level of math, Prime Factorization allows students to practice the skills needed to prepare themselves for factoring things more complicated than numbers. For example, the idea of factoring can be applied to factoring a common factor out of an expression, factoring quadratic equations, and factoring polynomials with complex numbers.

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How can technology (YouTube, Khan Academy [khanacademy.org], Vi Hart, Geometers Sketchpad, graphing calculators, etc.) be used to effectively engage students with this topic? Note: It’s not enough to say “such-and-such is a great website”; you need to explain in some detail why it’s a great website.

Khanacademy.org would be a fantastic website to engage students in this topic because of the inclusion of multiple representations. This website allows students to work through multiple practice problems where they can find the Prime Factorization of a number. When the student gets the question correct, they can move on to the next question, or they have the option to view a brief explanation on how to arrive at the correct answer. If students get a problem incorrect, they can retry the problem or get help on the question. The “get help” feature also provides students with a brief explanation, with options in video form and picture/written form, of how to solve the problem. Another important feature of this website is the ability for students to write out their thoughts as they work through the problem. Khan Academy allows students the option to use an online “whiteboard” feature that appears directly below the problem. This “whiteboard” feature allows students to write out their work and also offers a walkthrough of how to draw a factor tree.

Resources:
https://www.khanacademy.org/math/pre-algebra/pre-algebra-factors-multiples/pre-algebra-prime-factorization-prealg/e/prime_factorization
https://www.hmhco.com/blog/teaching-prime-factorization-of-36

Engaging students: Solving two-step algebra problems

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 Chi Lin. Her topic, from Pre-Algebra: solving two-step algebra problems.

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There is an interesting activity that I found online. It is called mini task cards. However, I want to rename this activity as “Find your partners” as an engage activity in this topic. I am going to create some two-step equations on the cards and give those cards randomly to the students at the beginning of the class. Each student has one mini card. The students will have 5 minutes to solve the equations and they will find the partners who have the same answers as them (there is 2-3 person in each group). The person who has the same answer with them will be the partner that they are working together with in the class. I will set up the answer as their group name (for example, if the answer is 1, then it means the group name is “Group One”). Here is an example that how the card will look like.


Reference:

12 Activities that Make Practicing Two-Step Equations Pop

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

Solving two-step equations is the foundation of solving multi-step equations. Solving two-step equations looks easy but it can become very hard. This topic can be applied in lots of areas such as high-level math classes, computer science, chemistry, physics, engineer, and so on. Most definitely, the students will see lots of problems about solving multi-step equations in different high-level mathematics courses in college, such as pre-calculus, calculus 1-3, differential equations, and so on. Also, the students will use the knowledge when they write the code in computer science class. For example, when they write down the code of two-step or multi-step algebra problems, they need to know which step goes first. If they do the step wrong, then the computer program will compute the wrong result. Moreover, the students will use solving two-step equations in chemistry class. For example, the students will apply this knowledge, when they write down the chemical equations and try to balance the equations.

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How does this topic extend what your students should have learned in previous courses?
First, students should know what linear equations are and how to write down the linear equations. Second, students should know how to solve one-step algebra problems, such as x+8=16 or x/8=16. Students should have learned that when they solve for the one-step equations (addition and subtract), whatever they do to one side of the equation, they need to make sure they add the same thing to the other side. For example, when they solve the equation x+8=16, they can subtract 8 for both sides, which is x+8-8=16-8. Therefore, x=8. Also, student should know that when they solve for the one-step equations (multiplication and division), they need to multiply both side by the reciprocal of the coefficient of the variable. For example, when they solve the equation x/8=16, they need to multiply the reciprocal of 1/8 for both sides, which is x/8*8=16*8. Therefore, x=128. Thus, when they learn to solve two-step equations, they need to combine these rules.

References:
https://www.khanacademy.org/math/algebra-home/alg-basic-eq-ineq/alg-one-step-mult-div-equations/a/one-step-equation-review

Solving Two-Step Equations

 

Engaging students: Solving one-step algebra problems

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 Emma White. Her topic, from Algebra: solving one-step algebra problems.

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

Solving one-step algebra problems strings into many future scenarios the student may (and will probably) encounter. One-step algebra problems infer that there must be two-step algebra problems and three-step algebra problems and so forth. As mathematicians, we know this to be true. While mathematics in my focus of study, I want to show the importance of learning this concept as it will aid in other classes. Stoichiometry is a concept taught in chemistry that has to do with the “relationship between reactants and products in a reaction” (Washington University in St. Louis, 2005). Chemical reactions require a balance. Essentially, once-step algebra expressions require just the same where both sides of the equations must be equal for the expression to be true. An example of a stoichiometry equation one may see in chemistry would be:

_KMnO{}_4 + _HCl → _MnCl{}_2 + _KCl + _Cl{}_2 + _H{}_2O

In the blanks, a variable can be placed, such that:

aKMnO{}_4 + bHCl → cMnCl{}_2 + dKCl + eCl{}_2 + fH{}_2O

Next, we would apply the Conservation of Mass. This concept deals with the number of atoms that must be on each side for the equation to be balanced. Writing the elements and their balanced equations with the variables, it follows:

K: a = d
Mn: a = c
O: 4a = f
H: b = 2f
Cl: b = 2c + d + 2e

As we can see, there is going to be more expressions and substitutions that must take place. That is something you can solve on your own if you wish. Overall, we see the importance of learning one-step algebra problems because this will be the foundation for solving more complex questions, even more so outside of the math classroom.

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How has this topic appeared in high culture (art, classical music, theatre, etc.)?

Theatre is more than the actors on the stage. While the performance and show are the part most people acknowledge and enjoy, the technical part behind the performance is what allows the show to happen. Algebraic problems are often used in technical theatre, especially when it comes to building a set. A prime example is building a single foundation (usually used in One Act plays where the whole play takes place in one scene). Focusing on a rectangular foundation, if we know the amount of space the actors, set, and featuring décor need, we can use this in an algebraic expression. Furthermore, if we also know dimensions of one of the sides (length or width), a variable can be used for the unknown side (since the area of a rectangle is length times the width). If we want to take this a step further, multiple one-step algebraic expressions can be used when making the foundation. If we know the length and width of the foundation and the length and width of the sheet floorboards to be used, we can write various expressions to determine how many sheet floorboards need to be used lengthwise and widthwise (example shown below).

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How can technology (YouTube, Khan Academy [khanacademy.org], Vi Hart, Geometers Sketchpad, graphing calculators, etc.) be used to effectively engage students with this topic?      

The use of technology is on the rise and the involvement of newer generations is greatly rising as well. Because of this, utilizing online resources is an effective way to capture the attention of the students and make math more engaging. Using algebra tiles is a perfect way to resemble this topic, even more so when it can be done online. Therefore, the teacher does not need to buy any materials and the students (especially high schoolers) don’t have to carry paper resources around or even home where, we all know, they will end up in the trash. Online algebra tiles provide a way to visually see the one-step algebra problem and work accordingly. Even so, these tiles can be an introduction and foundation on what is to come (these tiles are also a great source for solving two-step equations, distribution, polynomials, the perfect square, and so forth). Another insight for using online algebra tiles is in some schools where technology such as tablets/computers are provided, the students can share their screens to a projector (or whatever resources the classroom may have) and describe their thinking process to the class. This builds on the idea of students learning, processing, and being able to teach their peers what they learned as well.

References

End Result for x +4=8: https://technology.cpm.org/general/tiles/?tiledata=b5____g+afx__boy__aaapTtPhF%2B__qvtTauq7tSaurDtSaur5tSausBtSauwisCauwis4auwitAauwit2auwir6auwiuyauwiu0auwirEawq7ukawrDukawr5ukawsBukawwOrEawwOr6awwOsCawwOs4hFProblem%3A%20Solve%20for%20x.%20%20x%20%2B%204%20%3D%208__qPpBhFThere%20is%20one%20x%20left%20on%20the%20left%20sideand%20four%201s%20left%20over%20on%20the%20right.Therefore%2C%20x%20%3D%204.__v-wcgawWwOtBgawWwOt1gawWwOuzgawWwOu0

End Result for 4x=16: https://technology.cpm.org/general/tiles/?tiledata=b5____g+afx__boy__aaatCsnaatCtgaatCviaatCulauvIslauwaslauwGslauw8slauw6tjauwEtjauv8tjauvGtjauvFupauv7upauwDupauw5upauvDvlauv5vlauwBvlauw3vlhF%20%20%20%20%20Look%20at%20one%20x%20on%20the%20left%20side%20and%20seewhat%20it%20is%20paired%20with%20on%20the%20right%20side.We%20see%20that%20one%20x%20is%20paired%20with%20four%201s.Therefore%2C%20x%20%3D%204.__vuwngaqAr8vkgawZxzvnhFProblem%3A%20Solve%20for%20x.%204x%3D16__pEpz
https://chemistrytutor.me/balancing-chemical-equations-algebra/
http://www.chemistry.wustl.edu/~coursedev/Online%20tutorials/Stoichiometry.htm
https://technology.cpm.org/general/tiles/

Engaging students: Finding points on the coordinate plane

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 Morgan Mayfield. His topic, from Pre-Algebra: finding points on the coordinate plane.

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C2: How has this topic appeared in high culture (art, classical music, theatre, etc.)?

One popular art/sport high school students may take part in is marching band. I did four years of marching band in high school and I loved it. One has to wonder: “how does each performer know where they should be?” I’ve included a link from bandtek.com that describes the coordinate system marching bands use. It isn’t quite the same as the coordinate plane in a math class. When starting marching band, you learn how to take appropriately sized “8 to 5” steps, which simply means 8 equally spaced steps for every 5 yards on a football field. Each member will receive little cards that have “sets” on them. A set is a specific point on the field where the performer must be at a specific time of the show. Usually, performers will take straight paths from set to set in a specific amount of 8-5 steps. Looking at a bird eye’s view of the football field, one can see a rough coordinate plane. Like a coordinate plane has 4 quadrants, a football field has a rough 4 quadrant system where a performer is assigned to stand a specified amount of 8-5 steps from a specified yard line either on side 1 or 2 for their horizontal position and a specified amount of 8-5 steps from the front/back hash for vertical position facing the home sideline. Side 1 refers to the left side of the field from the home side perspective, Side 2 refers to the right side of the field from the home side perspective, and the front/back hash refers to the line of dashes that cut through the middle of the field horizontally from the home side perspective.

An example bandtek.com uses is, “4 outside the side 1 45, 3 in front of the front hash” which would mean the following position:

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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?

René Descartes was a 17th century (1600’s) French mathematician and philosopher. Many people study his work in modern day math and philosophy classes. Some may know him as the man who wrote “cogito, ergo sum” or “I think, therefore I am”. Well, there is a legend about his discovery of the Coordinate Plane. Descartes was often sick as a kid, way before modern medication and technology. He would often have to stay in bed at his boarding school until noon because of his illnesses. This gave him quite a bit of downtime to be observant of his environment. Laying on his bed, he could see a fly crawl around on his ceiling. He thought of ways to describe the location of the fly as it scuttled about the ceiling. Imagine telling a friend where the location of the fly was, “A little to the left of the right wall and a little down from the top wall”. This just isn’t precise enough, nor an easy way to communicate information. However, Descartes realized he could quantify the precise location of the fly from using the distance from a pair of perpendicular walls. Descartes then translated this idea onto a graph where the perpendicular “walls” continued infinitely in both directions and became “axes”. “Flies” then became “points” or “coordinate pairs”. Thus, the coordinate plane was born, and so was a way to describe points in space. Just a little bit of imagination, self-questioning, and observation lead to a fundamental change in Mathematics, a way to tie Algebra and Geometry together.

 

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E1: How can technology (YouTube, Khan Academy [khanacademy.org], Vi Hart, Geometers Sketchpad, graphing calculators, etc.) be used to effectively engage students with this topic? Note: It’s not enough to say “such-and-such is a great website”; you need to explain in some detail why it’s a great website.

 

I believe that https://www.chess.com/vision could be an effective website to engage students on finding points on the coordinate plane in a class that is being introduced to the idea for the first time. Many students won’t know how a chessboard is setup or even know how to play chess. The cool things are that they don’t need to know the fundamentals of chess and that the chessboard is essentially Quadrant I of a coordinate plane (where a1 is in the bottom left corner). The above website tests the player to locate as many squares (points) on a chessboard (coordinate plane) as they can in 30 seconds, given random chess coordinates. There is a way to toggle settings to also test yourself on moves and squares. In a classroom, I would only toggle the setting to list random “black and white squares” where the board is set with a1 at the bottom left corner. Students could start the day with this website as a precursor to formalizing the idea of finding points on a coordinate plane. This website is engaging (with an exclamation point)! The game can be made into a fun little competition amongst students. The time limit and game-y feeling to it encourages active participation. The game takes minimal explanation from the teacher for students to get the hang of it (no chess skills required). The fact that chessboards have one axis in letters and the other axis in numbers aids students in reading the coordinate plane x-axis first, then y-axis like the chess coordinates. I would only have the students run the game for a few rounds, making the activity in total 7 minutes or less.

 

 

References:

http://bandtek.com/how-to-read-a-drill-chart/

https://www.chess.com/vision

https://wild.maths.org/ren%C3%A9-descartes-and-fly-ceiling

https://maths2art.com.sg/2018/01/16/have-you-ever-followed-a-fly

Engaging students: Making and interpreting bar charts, frequency charts, pie charts, and histograms

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 Taylor Bigelow. Her topic, from Pre-Algebra: making and interpreting bar charts, frequency charts, pie charts, and histograms.

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

Charts allow for a lot of fun class activities. For example, we can have them take their own data for a table and create charts from that data. For my activity, I will give them all dice, which they should be very familiar with, and have them roll the dice 20 times and keep track of how many times it lands on each number in a table. From that table, they will make their own bar charts, frequency charts, and pie charts. After they roll their dice and make their charts, they will then answer questions interpreting the charts. This tests their ability to understand data and make all the different types of charts.

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How has this topic appeared in the news?

Charts are all over in the news, especially recently. There were pie charts and frequency charts all over during the election cycle, and with covid, all we see is bar charts of covid data. An easy engage for this topic would be to make observations about these types of graphs that they’ll probably see all the time during election seasons and might even be familiar with. First, we will ask the students what news can benefit from graphs, and what news they have seen graphs in recently. I expect answers similar to elections, covid, and economics. Then we can look at some of the graphs that usually show up around election cycles. We will take a minute as a class to discuss what they notice about the graphs and what they mean. Questions like “what type of graph is this”, “what are the variables in this graph”, and “what information do you get from this graph”. This will show the students that being able to read these graphs has real life applications, and it also teaches them what important things to look for in the graphs during class time and homework.

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

Technology is very useful for making graphs and being able to make and manipulate graphs can help them understand how to interpret the information given in graphs. Google sheets or excel can both be used to make and manipulate graphs. For this activity we would give the students some sample data and have them enter it into an online spreadsheet, and then make an appropriate graph to show this data. They then would answer questions about this graph, like “Why did you choose this type of graph to represent the data?”, “what is the independent variable and what is the dependent variable”, “What observations can you make about this graph?”, and “What would happen if you changed X to be # instead? Or if you added more information?” and other questions, especially about graphs with multiple variables. This helps students see how different information can be represented and lets them experiment with the information on their own, while also answering questions that steer them in the direction that the teacher wants them to know.

Engaging students: Finding the area of regular polygons

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 Conner Dunn. His topic, from Geometry: finding the area of regular polygons.

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How can technology be used to effectively engage students with this topic? Note:  It’s not enough to say “such-and-such is a great website”; you need to explain in some detail why it’s a great website.

A good way to get students into the concept and see it’s real life use is to be given a realistic problem. The natural world doesn’t typically give you perfectly regular polygons, but we certainly like making them ourselves. Better yet, we can make regular polygons of a certain area knowing the methodology behind computing their areas. Using GeoGebra, I can challenge students to construct a regular polygon of an exact area using what they know about the use of equilateral triangles to compute area.

For example, let’s say I ask for a hexagon with an area of 12√3 square units. While there’s a few strategies of constructing a regular hexagon that Geometry students may know of, the strategy to shoot for here is to recognize this means we want a hexagon with a side length of 2 then construct the triangles. GeoGebra allows for students to use line segments and give them certain lengths, as well as construct angles using a virtual compass tool. Below is the solution to this example by constructing 6 equilateral triangles (each with an area of 2√3 square units) to form the regular hexagon.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is geogebra-hexagon.png

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

By the end of the unit, students will have learned the formula for finding the area of a polygon (A = (1/2) * a * p, with a being the apothem, and p being the perimeter). But a big part of this unit is how we derive the formula from the process in which we solve the area using this equilateral triangle method. From many previous courses, students will have learned both the order of operations and properties of equality in equations, and we use this previous knowledge to connect a geometric understanding of area to an algebraic one. For example, when we have the idea of multiplying the area of an equilateral triangle by the number of sides, n, in the polygon, we have A = (1/2) b * h * n. It is by the use of communitive property that students can rearrange the variables like this: A = (1/2)h*b * n. And then we conclude that the b*n reveals that the perimeter of the polygon plays a role in our equation. This may seem subtle, but students being fluent in this knowledge helps them work in their geometric understandings much easier.

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How has this topic appeared in high culture (art, classical music, theatre, etc.)?

A big part of the method for understanding area of polygons is seeing how we can perfectly fit equilateral triangles inside of our polygons of choice. Perfectly fitting shapes into and around other shapes is something you see in mosaic art everywhere, particularly in Islamic architecture.

While mosaic artists are not necessarily calculating the areas of their art pieces (they might but I doubt it), a big part what makes these buildings so nice to look at is how the shapes fit with one another so nicely. This is an art that’s very intentional in its aesthetically pleasing aroma. This is something I think Geometry students can take to heart when confronting Geometry problems (a just as well with future courses). It’s the overlooked skill of literally connecting pieces together in order to get something we want. In the case of the Islamic architect, what we want is a pleasing building to look at, but math, of course, brings in more possible things to shoot for and equips us with plenty of pieces to (literally) connect together.

Engaging students: Finding the area of a circle

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 Brendan Gunnoe. His topic, from Geometry: finding the area of a circle.

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History: Squaring the circle

The ancient Greeks and other groups at the time had a fascination with geometry. These cultures tended to like thinking in terms of simpler geometric shapes, such as circles, equilateral triangles and squares. One of the classic problems proposed by these ancient peoples was “Can you create a square with the same area as a circle with finitely many steps only using a compass and straightedge?”. This problem stood for thousands of years, stumping even the most brilliant of mathematicians that attempted to show it true. Eventually, in the year 1882, it was finally proven impossible because of a property of the number π. It’s not too hard to show that π isn’t an integer, nor is it rational. What was left to show is whether π was algebraic or transcendental. The proof from 1882 showed that π is in fact transcendental, proving that it cannot be made using the rules set out by the original question. If a number is algebraic, then it is a solution to a polynomial with rational coefficients.

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Curriculum: Using limit of triangular approximations to get the integral

The teacher starts off class by drawing a circle with an inscribed triangle, another with a square, and so on until a hexagon is inscribed. The teacher then draws isosceles triangles that originate at the circles center and extend to the corners of the polygons. The teacher could ask questions like “What do you notice about the total area of the triangles and the area of the circle as we keep adding sides to the polygon?” and “What do you notice about the triangles we made and the little wedges of the circle, what’s the same and what’s different about them?”. Then the teacher could arrange both the triangles and wedges in an alternating up and down fashion, almost like two zippers, to line up the triangles and wedges. The teacher could ask “What’s the length of the top of the triangles? What about the tops of the wedges, what’s their length?”.

Finally, the teacher asks “What happens when we let the number of pieces gets REALLY big? What happens to difference between the area of the triangles and wedges? What about the tops of the triangles and the tops of the wedges?”. In the limit, the upper edge converges to half of the circumference of the circle and the height of the triangles converges to the radius of the circle. Using this line of thinking, the teacher guides the students into seeing how you can derive the equation for the area of a circle by using approximating it with triangles, and then looking at what happens in the limit.

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Application

A telescope’s lens is what’s used to control how much light gets into the eye piece. Suppose you’re an astronomer and want to take a photo of the full Moon on a clear night, which gives off 0.25 lumens/s-m2. Suppose your camera needs to get a total of at least 3 lumens to produce a good photo and 5 lumens to get an amazing photo. What’s the radius of a lens (in centimeters) that can take a good photo in 10 minutes? What’s the radius of a lens that can take an amazing photo in 10 minutes?

Now suppose you’re working with the Hubble space telescope in low Earth orbit trying to get photos of a nearby star system. The radius of the main telescope is 120cm and the star system you want to observe is giving off light at a rate of 10-5 lumens/s-m2. How long will it take to get a good photo with Hubble? What about a great photo?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hubble_Space_Telescope

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Squaring_the_circle

Engaging students: Computing the determinant of a matrix

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 Brendan Gunnoe. His topic: computing the determinant of a matrix.

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

When students learn about the determinant of a matrix, they only learn about computing it and don’t learn about the applications of the determinant or what they signify. One interesting use of the determinant is finding the eigenvectors of a matrix. A visual understanding of what an eigenvector is can be done by showing what a matrix does to the any generic vector, and what it does to the eigenvectors. For a generic vector that is different from an eigenvector, the matrix knocks the vector off the span of the original vector. What makes an eigenvector special is the fact that the matrix transformation keeps the eigenvector on its span but rescales said eigenvector by its eigenvalue. For example, take the matrix

\left[ \begin{array}{cc} 5 & 3 \\ 3 & 5 \end{array} \right].

This matrix’s eigenvectors are \left[ \begin{array}{c} 1 \\ 1 \end{array} \right] and \left[ \begin{array}{c} 1 \\ -1 \end{array} \right] with eigenvalues 8 and 2 respectively. That is,

\left[ \begin{array}{cc} 5 & 3 \\ 3 & 5 \end{array} \right] \left[ \begin{array}{c} 1 \\ 1 \end{array} \right] = \left[ \begin{array}{c} 8 \\ 8 \end{array} \right] = 8 \left[ \begin{array}{c} 1 \\ 1 \end{array} \right]

and

\left[ \begin{array}{cc} 5 & 3 \\ 3 & 5 \end{array} \right] \left[ \begin{array}{c} 1 \\ -1 \end{array} \right] = \left[ \begin{array}{c} 2 \\ -2 \end{array} \right] = 2 \left[ \begin{array}{c} 1 \\ -1 \end{array} \right].

Eigenvectors have many useful applications in future math and science classes including electronics, linear algebra, differential equations and mechanical engineering.

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How can technology (YouTube, Khan Academy [khanacademy.org], Vi Hart, Geometers Sketchpad, graphing calculators, etc.) be used to effectively engage students with this topic? Note: It’s not enough to say “such-and-such is a great website”; you need to explain in some detail why it’s a great website.

The YouTube channel 3Blue1Brown has a fantastic video on determinates and linear transformations. Grant, the channel owner, uses animations to visualize what a matrix transformation does to the plane . He starts by showing what a transformation does to a single square then shows why the change of change of that one area shows what happens to the area of any region. He also gives multiple explanations for what a negative determinate means in terms of orientation of the axes. Then he explains what happens when the determinate is 0. All of this is already extremely useful for understanding what a 2×2 matrix does, but Grant continues and extends all the same things for 3×3 transformations. Lastly, Grant gives a few explanations on why the formula for the determinate is what it is and poses a small puzzle for the viewer to contemplate. This video explains what and why we use determinates and how they can be useful all while showing pleasing visual examples and other explanations.

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What interesting word problems using this topic can your students do now?

Using determinates to see if a set of vectors is a basis.

The determinant can tell you when a matrix squishes space into a lower dimensional space like a line or a plane. Thus, taking the determinate of a matrix composed of a set of vectors tells you if those vectors are a basis for the matrix’s dimension.

Part 1. A 3D printer’s axes are set up in such a way that the print head can only travel in the direction \left[ \begin{array}{c} 1 \\ 1 \end{array} \right] and \left[ \begin{array}{c} -1 \\ 1 \end{array} \right]. Assume that the place where the print head is right now is the origin \left[ \begin{array}{c} 0 \\ 0 \end{array} \right]. Can you move the print head to the location \left[ \begin{array}{c} x \\ y \end{array} \right] and \left[ \begin{array}{c} 1 \\ -1 \end{array} \right] by only moving in the directions of \left[ \begin{array}{c} 1 \\ 1 \end{array} \right] and \left[ \begin{array}{c} -1 \\ 1 \end{array} \right]?

Hint: Try to solve \left[ \begin{array}{cc} 1 & -1 \\ 1 & 1 \end{array} \right] \left[ \begin{array}{c} a \\ b \end{array} \right] = \left[ \begin{array}{c} x \\ y \end{array} \right] . Does this always have a solution \left[ \begin{array}{c} a \\ b \end{array} \right]?

Part 2. Next time you turn on your 3D printer, one of the motor’s broke and now the print head can only move in the direction of \left[ \begin{array}{c} 1 \\ 0 \end{array} \right]. Assume that the place where the print head is right now is the origin \left[ \begin{array}{c} 0 \\ 0 \end{array} \right]. Can you move the print head to the location  by only moving in the direction of \left[ \begin{array}{c} 1 \\ 0 \end{array} \right]?

Hint: Try to solve \left[ \begin{array}{cc} 1 & 0 \\ 0 & 0 \end{array} \right] \left[ \begin{array}{c} a \\ b \end{array} \right] = \left[ \begin{array}{c} x \\ y \end{array} \right] . Does this always have a solution \left[ \begin{array}{c} a \\ b \end{array} \right]?

Part 3. You buy a new 3D printer that it can move in all three directions: up/down, left/right, forward/backwards. When you test out the movement of the print head, you see that each axis moves in the directions of \left[ \begin{array}{c} 1 \\ 0 \\ 0 \end{array} \right], \left[ \begin{array}{c} 0 \\ 1 \\ 0 \end{array} \right], and \left[ \begin{array}{c} 0 \\ 0 \\ 1 \end{array} \right]. Can you use your new 3D printer to go to any location \left[ \begin{array}{c} x \\ y \\ z \end{array} \right], inside the printing space?

Hint: Think about solving \left[ \begin{array}{ccc} 1 & 0 & 0 \\ 0 & 1 & 0 \\ 0 & 0 & 1 \end{array} \right] \left[ \begin{array}{c} a \\ b \\ c \end{array} \right] = \left[ \begin{array}{c} x \\ y \\ z \end{array} \right] . Does this always have a solution \left[ \begin{array}{c} a \\ b \\ c \end{array} \right]? How do you know?

Part 4. Your little sibling messed around with your new 3D printer and now it moves in the directions \left[ \begin{array}{c} 1 \\ 0 \\ 1 \end{array} \right], \left[ \begin{array}{c} 1 \\ 1 \\ 0 \end{array} \right], and \left[ \begin{array}{c} 2 \\ 1 \\ 1 \end{array} \right]. Is your 3D printer able to get to some point \left[ \begin{array}{c} x \\ y \\ z \end{array} \right] inside the printing space as is, or do you need to fix your printer?

Hint: Think about solving \left[ \begin{array}{ccc} 1 & 1 & 2 \\ 0 & 1 & 1 \\ 1 & 0 & 1 \end{array} \right] \left[ \begin{array}{c} a \\ b \\ c \end{array} \right] = \left[ \begin{array}{c} x \\ y \\ z \end{array} \right]. Does this always have a solution \left[ \begin{array}{c} a \\ b \\ c \end{array} \right]? How do you know?

Engaging students: Finding the equation of a circle

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 Noah Mena. His topic, from Precalculus: finding the equation of a circle.

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The equation of a circle relies on knowing the definition of a circle, knowing the radius and deciding where the circle is centered at. All of these come into play when a student has to find the equation of a circle. It takes basic understanding of the cartesian grid and understanding the coordinate system.  The equation of a circle also builds on students being able to manipulate the equation to get it into standard form and identifying the equation of a circle when it is expanded out. The shape of a circle should also be known, which means with the equation of a circle, students should be able to construct the perfect circle according to the given specifications in the equation.

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Learning to write the equation of a circle can be difficult. For one of my teaches last semester my mentor teacher suggested the use of a desmos paired with a worksheet to allow the students to explore what changes the standard equation of a circle. The worksheet had the students enter certain coordinates into the graphing calculator and write down what they thought was the equation of a circle. The next part of the assignment was student driven by having them share their conclusions on what the equation for a circle would be when it is centered at the origin vs. centered at (h,k). The worksheet shows that the students drove their own learning and came to their own conclusions which enhanced engagement through the lesson.

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This topic can come up again in trigonometry, upper level calculus and in math modeling. In my TNTX math modeling course, we took a closer look at the derivation of this equation and the subtleties of the standard form. This topic may also be used in physics calculations or in general, science labs.  For a physics word problem, it may ask you to calculate the net force and acceleration of a moving object around a circle. In this instance, it would suffice to just know the definition and general shape of a circle to complete these calculations. The definition of a circle is also needed to calculate centripetal force.