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.

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

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: 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 Austin Stone. His topic, from Pre-Algebra: powers and exponents.

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

“The number of people who are infected with COVID-19 can double each day. If it does double every day, and one person was infected on day 0, how many people would be infected after 20 days?” This problem can be a current real-life word problem that all students can relate to given the times we are in. This problem would be a good introductory for students to see how quickly numbers can get when using exponents. This would be an engaging introductory to exponents and will get the students interested because they can easily see that this can be used in current problems facing the world. This problem could also work later in Algebra if you ask how many days it would take to infect “blank” amount of people. This makes the question more of a challenge because they would have to solve for “x” (days) which is the exponent.

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How has this topic appeared in the news?

This topic has been the news so far in 2020 if we are being honest. COVID-19 is a virus that has an exponential infection rate, just like any virus. When talking about COVID-19, news reporters and doctors usually use graphs to depict the infection rate. These graphs start off small but then grow exponentially until it slows down due to either people being more aware of their hygiene habits and/or the human immune system getting more familiar with the virus. Knowing how exponents work helps people better understand the seriousness of viruses such as COVID-19 and the everlasting impact it can have on the world. Doctors study what are the best ways to slow down the exponential growth so that a limited number of people contract and potentially die from the virus. To do this, they predict the exponential growth keeping in mind the regulations that may be enforced. Whatever regulation(s) slow down the virus the most are the ones that they try to enforce.

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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 massively large. A teacher can set this up by giving the students a problem to think about such as, “how many people would be infected with the virus after “blank” amount of day?” Students then could guess what they believe it would be. After revealing the graph and the actual number, students will probably be surprised at how big the number is in just a short amount of time. After that, the teacher could show a video on YouTube about exponential growth and/or infection rates of viruses and how quickly a small virus can turn into a pandemic. This also has very current real-world applications.

Reference: https://www.osfhealthcare.org/blog/superspreaders-these-factors-affect-how-fast-covid-19-can-spread/

Engaging students: Multiplying binomials

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 Cire Jauregui. Her topic, from Algebra: multiplying binomials.

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

Khan Academy has a whole series of videos, practice problems, and models to help students learn about multiplying binomials. The first in this series is a video visualizing the problem (x+2)(x+3) as a rectangle and explains that multiplying the binomials would give the area taken up by the rectangle. This would help students connect multiplying binomials to multiplying numbers to find area. This can also help students who learn better with visual examples by giving them a way to show a picture demonstrating the problem they are multiplying. Khan Academy then moves from using a visual representation to a strictly alpha-numerical representation so students can smoothly transition from having the pictures drawn out to just working out the problem. The first video in the series of pages at Khan Academy can be found at this link: https://tinyurl.com/KhanAcademyBinomials

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

Multiplying binomials extends on two-digit times two-digit multiplication that students learn and practice in elementary and middle school courses. This video from the platform TikTok by a high school teacher Christine (@thesuburbanfarmhouse) shows the connection between vertical multiplication of two numbers and the multiplication of binomials together: https://tinyurl.com/TikTokFOIL By showing students that it works the same way as other forms of multiplication that they have already seen and hopefully mastered, it sets the students up to view the multiplication of binomials and other polynomials in a way that is familiar and more comfortable. This particular video is part of a miniature series that Christine recently did explaining why slang terms such as FOIL (standing for “first, outside, inside, last” as a way to remember how to multiply binomials) which many classrooms have used (including my own high school teachers), which are helpful when initially explaining multiplication of binomials, ultimately can be confusing to students when they move on to multiplying other polynomials. I personally will be staying away from using terms like FOIL because as students move on to trinomials and other larger polynomials, there are more terms to distribute than just the four mentioned in FOIL.

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

As I mentioned in the last question, learning to multiply binomials can lead students to success in multiplying polynomials. This skill can also help students factor polynomials in that it can help them check their answers when they are finished. It can also help them recognize familiar-looking polynomials as having possible binomials as factors. If a student were to see 12x2-29x-8 and couldn’t remember how to go about factoring it in other ways, a student could use a guess-and-check method to factor. They might try various combinations of (Ax+B)(Cx-D) until they find a satisfactory of A, B, C, and D that when the binomial is multiplied, creates the polynomial they were trying to factor. Without solid skills in multiplying binomials, a student would likely be frustrated in trying to find what A, B, C, and D as their multiplication could be wrong and seemingly no combination of numbers works.

Engaging students: Rational and Irrational Numbers

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 Trenton Hicks. His topic, from Pre-Algebra: rational and irrational numbers.

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The big history associated with irrational numbers involves a Greek philosopher, Hippasus, and his peers, the Pythagorean Theorem, and a square. Hippasus had a square with side lengths of 1 unit, raising the question: what is the distance from corner to corner across the square? The pythagorean theorem tells us that it should be the square root of two. After searching for two numbers to represent the square root of two as a ratio, Hippasus sought out something else: proving that it wasn’t rational. He did so by contradiction, assuming that the square root of two was rational, and that said ratio was in simplest terms. By manipulating the equation, he found that one of the integers in the ratio was even. By further manipulation, he found that the other integer was even as well, reaching a paradox. The ratio couldn’t be in simplest terms if both numbers were even. With this, he had proven that there were no two numbers that could represent the square root of two as a ratio. Thus, the concept of an irrational number was born. It is rumored that once he went to present his findings, his peers disapproved. This new idea contradicted their original beliefs, and was even considered blasphemy. Some rumors even suggest he was murdered for this.

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Given the history above, the students could know what it was like for Hippasus and his peers by designing a humorous hypothetical to get them interested in the history. “Imagine you’re in a fellowship of people just like yourselves. You love pizza. You love the toppings, the taste, the artistry. You and your fellow pizza enthusiasts believe that pizza is the language of the universe, and worship it accordingly. One day, you are tasked with cracking a new subcategory of pizza: vegetable pizza. You test vegetables far and wide, and nothing seems to be just what you’re looking for. One day, you see a pineapple sitting on the counter, and you resort to trying it on pizza, since you’re out of ideas. You try it, and it works perfectly. You rush to tell the other pizza enthusiasts and you are shunned for pizza blasphemy. They get so furious with you, that they take you on a boat, and throw you overboard. Your story is very similar to another man’s story, but this man was thrown off a boat for discovering a new set of numbers, not a new flavor of pizza.” Then, to wrap up, the instructor could hand out rulers and squares and tell students to calculate and measure the square’s diagonal corners, to simulate the problem that Hippasus was confronted with.

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By this point, the students should have already seen concepts related to fractions,  pythagorean theorem, square roots, and they may have even heard of pi or the square root of 2. This concept introduces new terminology to describe fractions as “ratios” or “rational” and introduces a new concept of irrational numbers. The most common example, referenced above, uses a square to construct a 45-45-90 triangle, which is also potentially something they have seen before. Ratios in general are a topic directly related to similar triangles. Lastly, in order to compute areas of circles and related geometries, students have had to use the irrational number pi. When first introduced to this number, students may have been told that this number is irrational without any context of what that means. This lesson and curriculum would be a perfect opportunity to fill in those gaps, while addressing any misconceptions about what irrational numbers are. For instance, many students believe that ⅓ is irrational because it cannot be expressed as a finite decimal.

Source: https://nrich.maths.org/2671

Source: https://youtu.be/sbGjr_awePE

Engaging students: Negative and zero 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 again comes from my former student Gary Sin. His topic, from Algebra: negative and zero exponents.

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

The idea behind negative and zero exponents is to basically go backwards in our method of obtaining answers to positive exponents. I can create an activity where the students will begin by applying their knowledge on positive exponents represented on a number line and how every exponent increase in 1 multiplies the previous number by the base. I can then ask the students to point out a pattern they notice between the answers as the exponents increase. The students will realize that the answer is always the previous answer multiplied by the base.

Now I will ask the students what will happen if we went backwards down the number line instead. The students will then realize that going backwards meant dividing the next answer by the base. With this realization, I will guide the students all the way back to the first power and ask them what will happen now if we kept dividing by the base. The students will figure out that the zero exponent of a base would be 1. I will continue by asking the students what will happen now if we kept going and dividing by the base. The students will finally realize that negative exponents will meant dividing the answers repeatedly by the base. I will conclude by asking the students to go forward down the number line so that they will conclude that this logical way of thinking works with how exponents work.

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

Exponents are easier ways of representing the multiplication of a base by itself. The students will grasp the concept of exponents once they realize zero and negative exponents are obtained the same way positive ones are obtained, except going backwards.

Therefore, the grasp of exponents is important as they progress towards algebra 1 and 2 where variables are represented with exponents. This is very important as it represents a leap from linear equations to quadratic equations and subsequently cubic equations. Polynomials also greatly utilize exponents and learning how exponents work will allow the students to simplify complicated polynomials by combining like terms. Students learning negative exponents will also allow them to represent polynomials in fraction form which is sometimes easier to manipulate.

The knowledge of exponents is very important once they reach advanced math courses like pre-calculus, calculus and future college math courses. Differentiation and integration both heavily involves exponents.

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

Understanding how negative and zero exponents work depends on basic knowledge of arithmetic and manipulating fractions. Also the students must have prior knowledge on how positive exponents work.

Exponents is the next level after arithmetic. Arithmetic begins with understanding counting, then learning how to add. Multiplication is derived from addition and it is basically the simplification of adding large groups of the same number. We can see that exponents is the next step after multiplication. The simplification of multiplying large groups of the same number.

However, discovering how zero and negative exponents are obtained requires the use of division. Students will apply their knowledge on how to divide and how to represent division as fractions. E.g. 1 divide by 2 can represented as ½.

Of course this requires the basic knowledge on how exponents themselves work and understanding how the exponent depends on the number of times we multiply the base.

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 Brendan Gunnoe. His topic, from Pre-Algebra: finding prime factorizations.

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How can prime factorization be used in curriculum?

The teacher starts the class by asking students how they would find the least common multiple and greatest common divisor for two numbers. For the LCM, the most basic answer is listing the multiples of both denominators until they share a common multiple. For GCD, the most basic answer is listing out the factors of both numerator and denominator and finding the largest one in common.

Both processes can be made faster when using prime factorization, especially for larger numbers. First, do the process of prime factorization for both numbers. Then, for each prime, take the highest power on the lists and multiply everything together.

For example, take 12 and 45.

12 = 2^2 \times 3^1

45 =3^2 \times 5^1

\lcm(12,45) = 2^2 \times 3^2 \times 5^1 = 180

The process for finding the GCF is similar. Start off by doing the prime factorization for both numbers. Then, for each shared prime factor, take the smallest power and multiply everything together.

For example, take 12 and 30.

12 = 2^2 \times 3^1

30 =2^1 \times 3^1 \times 5^1

\gcd(12,45) = 2^1 \times 3^1 = 6

This process generalizes very easily for any amount of input numbers.

GCF and LCM are incredibly important when working with fractions and are used when reducing and adding fractions. Because fractions have loads of misconceptions associated with them, giving students another way to understand fractions can be very beneficial.

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Technology

Have you ever wondered why we use 60 seconds in a minute and 60 minutes in an hour? Or why there is 24 hours in a day? What about why there is 360 degrees in a circle? One explanation is because these numbers can be divided evenly by loads of smaller numbers that we use often. In other words, these numbers have lots of factors in them. These kinds of numbers are called highly composite numbers.

A great video showcasing highly composite numbers is Numberphile’s video “5040 and other Anti-Prime Numbers,” hosted by Dr. James Grimes. This video is extremely dense with informative as Dr. Grimes explains what a highly composite number is, shows properties of these numbers, explains why they have these properties, and gives examples of how highly composite numbers are used both in math and in real life. Dr. Grimes also gives a few historical uses of highly composite numbers, which answer some of the questions listed above.

Prime factorization is the foundation of highly composite numbers. Highly composite numbers can be an interesting and exciting application of prime factorization.

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Application

Semiprime numbers were also used in the making of the Arecibo message. Because the message is composed of 1679 bits, there is only four ways of decomposing the message into a rectangle. All possible decompositions of 1679 into a rectangle are 1×1679, 73×23, 23×73 and 1679×1. If decoded correctly, then the message forms a picture which contains loads of information about the solar system and life on Earth.

For a way to make semiprime numbers into an engaging activity for students, the teacher could have students create their own mini version of the Arecibo message and show them off in class. Students can be made into groups and each group get assigned a certain semiprime. Then, each group gets to decide what information goes in their mini message and draw their message onto a sheet of poster paper with a grid on it. Finally, they present their message to the class, representing the students sending their message off into space for extraterrestrial life to decode.

References:

https://topdrawer.aamt.edu.au/Fractions/Misunderstandings

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2JM2oImb9Qg

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

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