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 Alizee Garcia. 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?

As stated in the topic, one-step algebra problems can also lead up to two-step, three-step, and so on and so forth. Being said, as students’ move on to future courses, the knowledge they have over one-step problems is what will get them through more complex equations. Throughout algebra courses, the basis of problems will be to solve an unknown variable. Without the understanding of the base of algebra, things will not be smooth. Also, solving one-step algebra problems will help students’ even in science classes. For example, chemistry classes contain a lot of variables and unknowns and it is up to the student to solve for them. The amount of solution a student has to put into another solution may need to be figured out by a simple one-step algebra problem and without this knowledge, it can lead to a ruined lab or maybe even an explosion. Solving one-step problems and understanding how to will help students tremendously from the time they learn it to the end of time.

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

When solving any algebra problem, or solving for an unknown, it allows students to incorporate order of operations. As for just one-step algebra problems, it gives students the opportunity to practice addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. It also gives them to opportunity to practice setting up an equation when solving for the unknown. There are many things that one-step algebra problems extends for students but as they have more practice, they should not have to think about it much. Furthermore, when solving algebra problems one of the most important things is doing the same application on both sides of the equality. Sometimes students may have done one-step algebra problems in the past but have not set it up in an equation. This also will extend the topic of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. Although the students may already have a lot of experience with those applications, it gives them more practice to decide what application to use when solving a one-step algebra problem.

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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?      

Recently, I have discovered that when appropriate, using websites such as Quizziz, Kahoot, and online games as such helps students engage in the topic. Especially for one-step algebra problems that can be done mentally or quickly on paper, it lets students become more active in the lesson. Students will want to be their peers high score and get the questions right. Using such technology will enable students to have more practice and wanting to do it correctly as well. Making topics a friendly competition for students will make things more exciting for them. Also, these website will allow for an untimed quiz so they do not feel rush and are able to accurately solve problems. Although this can be tricky for some math topics, with simpler things such as one-step algebra problems, it definitely will be a very good opportunity for students to learn material and have fun with it as well.

Factorization of 2021

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

Large number formats

A great explanation of the comic can be found at https://www.explainxkcd.com/wiki/index.php/2319:_Large_Number_Formats.

Engaging students: Using the point-slope equation of a line

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 Johnny Aviles. His topic, from Algebra: using the point-slope equation of a line.

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

On the 1987 NBA Dunk Contest, Michael Jordan won by dunking all the way from the free throw line. (I will play them a clip). Now can anyone tell me how high the hoop is from the ground? And how far is the free throw line from the base of the hoop? So, in total he went 10 feet in the air while jumping 15 feet! This is incredibly difficult and was why he won the contest. Now lets just compute that slope. With rise/ run we get that the slope was 2/3. Another example I can use is the time I took to get to school. I live 30 miles away and it took me 40 minutes to get to school. would anyone be able to find the average speed? (45 MPH) Then I will make it more complex and say I went 60 miles an hour for the first 20 minutes, how fast was I going the last 20 minutes?(30 MPH) Then I will have a round robin activity where I will give 5 min for my students to discuss amongst their groups where they can create a scenario where they can use point-slope equation of a line.

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C3 How has this topic appeared in the news?

We all have many factors that interest us and the news’ job is to keep us updated. For many people, the stock market is a very serious subject of interest. Everything is shown in charts and done on points and percentages for simplicity reasons. This uses the concept of point-slope equation of a line to create this data. The news also covers may other topics like the rise of current temperature from given years to see if factors like global warming may have played a role to create the next leading story. The data from previous years can create point-slope equation that can predict the rain and snow fall amount for a given city or town. The weather initially can use point-slope equation of a line to predict all factors all data collected over decades. There is a copious amount of data that the news has to be used in all aspects of the news, one that has been shown is the rise of mass shootings. This is a very controversial matter as many people seek reform of the second amendment. Overall, point-slope equation of a line is widely used in many platforms of our news programs.

 

 

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D4 What are the contributions of various cultures to this topic?

Architecture has been the biggest contribution that point-slope equation of a line and has to be applied. Various cultures have their own specific style of how they have their cities, towns and neighborhoods but all will apply the basics of point-slope equation of a line. For example, when creating a building, they use materials with large mass and need to be supported. If the slope of a beam is even slightly off, it can generally cause the building to collapse under its own weight causing the lives of many. Every aspect of the building needs to be measured in a precise way to create a solid structure. Styles then range from all cultures and can have tilted and rounded with elaborate beams to add more diversity. Overall, all cultures have their own specific style of houses that all require the same point-slope equation of a lines that contributes them to remain standing.

 

 

 

How to picture an exponent

While I’m easily amused by math humor, I rarely actually laugh out loud after reading a comic strip. That said, I laughed heartily after reading this one.

Source: https://xkcd.com/2283/

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 Tiger Hersh. His topic, from Pre-Algebra: finding points on the coordinate plane.

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

To find a point on a 2-D coordinate plane we would need to have an x-axis and y-axis. Many things in the real world could act as a coordinate plane and that could also be used to create an activity or project. One of those things could be where the students could use a Nerf gun and fire it at a wall with a coordinate plane. This activity would not only be engaging for students but also help them understand how to plot the points on a coordinate plane, but also show students how to find the point on the coordinate plane.

Students will group up and take turns firing darts at a wall that would have a coordinate plane on it. Each group will have different color darts to indicate where each group has plotted their point. Each student in each group will fire two darts at the coordinate plane; After each student has finished plotting their points they will approximate the point and record it down on their worksheet.

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Curr1 : How can this topic be used in your students’ future courses in mathematics or science?

Plotting points on a 2-D coordinate plane is used in almost every future course in mathematics. You can observe the usage of 2-D coordinate planes in Geometry, Algebra 1, Algebra 2, Pre-Cal, and so on.
In Geometry you can plot the points of a triangle on the coordinate plane to then find the distance between them with the distance formula or you could find the midpoint between each point using the midpoint formula. These are only some examples that plot points on the 2-D coordinate plane.

In Algebra 1/2 you can see that you can find the slope between two points using the slope equation. You can also use this concept to plot points for equations that involve the slope-intercept form, polynomials, the unit circle, shapes, etc. The points that are plotted could also show what is happening over a period of time and also give us an idea what the equation is trying to tell us.

In Pre-cal you plot points on a coordinate plane in the equation x^2+y^2=1 to form the unit circle and also plot points when you have to rotate or transform a shape or equation.

 

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Cul1 : How has this topic appeared in pop culture (movies, TV, current music, video games, etc.)?

The game Starcraft 2 is a real-time strategy (RTS) game where you have to build an economy to fuel an army and beat the opponent by destroying their infrastructure, economy, or army. Interestingly when you build your building you notice that you are building on a 2-D coordinate plane.

The game itself is in its own 2-D coordinate plane where you have to plan where to move at certain points and also place your buildings at certain points to either block off a ramp or create a concave for your units so that they are able to deal more damage towards the opponent. There are also times in the game where you have to keep in mind about key parts in the map where your opponent is, where your next bases are, where proxies are, and where to set up counter attacks on your opponent.

 

Visualizing One Million vs. One Billion

From the YouTube description: “There are lots of ways to compare a million to a billion, but most of them use volume. And I think that’s a mistake, because volume just isn’t something the human brain is great at. So instead, here’s the difference between a million and a billion, in a more one-dimensional way: distance.

The video is more than an hour long, which is the point. In the last minute of the video, he mentions what a trillion would be in the same scenario.

Engaging students: The field axioms

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 Andrew Sansom. His topic, from Pre-Algebra: the field axioms of arithmetic (the distributive law, the commutativity and associativity of addition and multiplication, etc.).

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Algebra, from one perspective, is the use of numbers’ and operations’ properties to manipulate expressions. Some of these properties, called the field axioms, are crucial to being able to easily solve equations. These properties include associativity, commutativity, distributivity, identity, and inverse. To better appreciate how these properties are so helpful in algebra, it is useful to explore some examples of operations that do not obey these laws.

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

Example 1: The Average (Mean) is Not Associative

Part 1
A math teacher Mrs. Taylor instructs a class of three students: Alice, Bob, and Charlie. The class took an exam last week, but Charlie was sick and missed the test, so he took it today. Mrs. Taylor promised the class that if the class average on the exam was high enough, she would give them all candy. If Alice scored a 96 and Bob scored an 83, what was the class average (the average of those two students) after the first day of the exam?

mean(A,B)= \frac{(A+B}{2}=

Part 2
After Charlie took the exam (he scored an 89), Mrs. Taylor wanted to know if she had to calculate the average from scratch (i.e. add all three scores and divide by three), or if she could just average the previous mean and Charlie’s score (i.e. add your answer from part 1 and Charlie’s score and divide by 2), since she already had done some arithmetic and didn’t want to waste time. Would she find the same answer if she tried both methods? If not, which one is correct? Why?
mean(mean(A,B),C)= \frac{ \frac{A+B}{2} +C}{2} =

mean(A,B)= \frac{A+B+C}{3}=

Part 3
After her discovery in Part 2, Mrs. Taylor is curious if she first found the mean of Bob and Charlie’s grades, then averaged it with Alice’s grade, if it would be the same as an answer above. Is it? Why or why not?

mean(A,mean(B,C))=\frac{A+ \frac{B+C}{2} }{2}=

Part 4
What does it mean for an operation to be associative? How does this activity show that the average (mean) is not associative? Why does this mean you have to be extra careful when solving problems with averages?

Example 2: Subtraction is Not Commutative

Part 1
Mrs. Taylor likes to visit Alaska during the summer. When she arrived in Anchorage, it was 10F, but a snowstorm caused the temperature to drop by 21F. Write an equation with subtraction to find the new temperature the next day.

The next summer, when Mrs. Taylor arrives in Anchorage, it is 21F but the temperature drops 10F. Write an equation with subtraction to find the new temperature the next day.

Part 2
What does it mean for an operation to be commutative? Based on what you found in Part 1, is subtraction commutative? Why or why not? Why does that mean you need to be extra careful when solving problems with subtraction?

 

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B2. How does this topic extend what your students should have learned in previous courses?

Prior to pre-algebra, students should be proficient in arithmetic. In that study, they should have been exposed to fact families, which are simple examples of the inverse elements of addition and multiplication. The field axioms generalize these ideas to other objects. Students also should have realized that subtraction and division do not commute, though they likely never used that name. They also likely realized that addition by 0 or multiplication by 1 do not affect the value of the other element. By learning the names of these different properties, students build upon their prior experience to be able to label and acknowledge when these properties appear in other contexts.

 

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

Although high school students will spend most of their time working in fields, instead of other algebraic structures such as non-Abelian groups or noncommutative rings, an appreciation and awareness of the field axioms while studying pre-algebra will prepare them for solving equations involving exponents (for example, intuitively questioning whether 2^x=x^2, which are trivially different, but not obvious to the novice). Furthermore, most Algebra II classes do briefly study Matrix Algebra, which is noncommutative (i.e. matrix multiplication does not commute), which causes many interesting conundrums for the uninitiated student while trying to solve problems. This appreciation of the field axioms prepares them for later study in Linear Algebra and Abstract Algebra. Outside of their math classes, vector fields form a critical part of physics, even at the high school level. Although most high school students do not realize it, they have to use the field axioms all the time to solve physics problems.

References:
Use of the mean as a simple example of a non-associative operation courtesy of StackExchange user “Accumulation” on the thread “Non-Associative Operations” (https://math.stackexchange.com/a/2892589)