Engaging students: Half-life

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 Kerryana Medlin. Her topic: working with the half-life of a radioactive element.

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

Depending on when they take precalculus, this topic may appear earlier or later in chemistry. The following is the list of TEKS for this topic in chemistry.

112.35. Chemistry (12) Science concepts. The student understands the basic processes of nuclear chemistry. The student is expected to:
(A) describe the characteristics of alpha, beta, and gamma radiation;
(B) describe radioactive decay process in terms of balanced nuclear equations; and
(C) compare fission and fusion reactions.

This is likely the most immediate application the students will encounter, but this topic also appears in calculus and, later, in the topic of differential equations, since it involves exponential decay. This topic can also be brought up in environmental science to mention the lifetime of radioactive isotopes. When a student crunches the numbers on the lifetimes of these isotopes, they can see that sometimes a small action has a huge ripple effect, especially for isotopes that humans bring into the picture.

 

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What interesting things can you say about the people who contributed to the discovery and/ or the development of this topic?

Ernest Rutherford received a Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1908 for his discovery of the half-life of radioactive materials and his insistence that we apply this information to find the Earth’s age (Mastin, 2009). This later became more of a reality when Willard Libby started to develop carbon dating in 1946 (Radiocarbon Dating). Since then, carbon dating has been used to find the age of historical artifacts and bones, allowing historians to find more accurate time frames of events.

Carbon is not the only radioactive isotope. There are others which come to mind more readily when the word “radioactive” is used. These are typically the elements used for nuclear reactors. These are elements which readily undergo nuclear fission, which is the splitting of atoms, which releases energy. Uranium and Plutonium are the most common of these isotopes. Uranium-235 is the most commonly used for reactors and bombs (Brain and Lamb, 2000). This is probably the more interesting part of half-lives of elements and can extend the learning to an environmental issue such as nuclear waste, which takes an extremely long time to decay and which the U.S. Government has, in the past, not handled so well. (But I am not going into that, lest I go on a rant).

The last piece of history worth mentioning is fairly recent (and can be seen in real life and in the game mentioned later in this paper) which is that half-lives are not so clear cut. There is definitely a lot of estimating involved in the accepted half-life values. There is an article about this if you are interested (http://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/0026-1394/52/3/S51/pdf), but I will leave it at this: much like most mathematical models, there is error in the half-life model, and the model formed may be a best fit, but there are always outliers for data and while carbon dating and half-lives of Uranium can give great estimates of what we are working with, they are not perfect.

 

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

For this topic, there is an interactive simulation posted on PHET. It lends itself to a guided worksheet which would allow students to use the simulations to create the functions for each half-life.
So the following would be an example of said worksheet without spaces for actual answers:

Radioactive Half-Life of Carbon-14 and Uranium-238

Please access the following website: https://phet.colorado.edu/en/simulation/radioactive-dating-game

Once there, download and run the game.

At the top of the game window are four different tabs: Half Life, Decay Rates, Measurement, and Dating Game. We will be going through each one in that order.

Some information about radioactive isotopes: An isotope is an element which has the same number of protons in its nucleus, but a differing number of neutrons, thus making it radioactive. These elements have lives which are defined by the time it takes to no longer be radioactive.

Part I: Half Life

Select the Carbon-14 atom and start placing the atoms in the white area. (The “add 10” tool is helpful here.) Then observe as each goes to Nitrogen-14 (This means the element is no longer radioactive and the radioactive isotope has run its course.)

What do you observe about the lives of the isotopes?

What time-frame do these lives fall into?

Do the same for Uranium-238 and record the time-frame.

Part II: Decay Rates

This part works by adjusting the slider and allowing the isotopes to run the course of their lives.

What does the graph on the bottom tell us?

How does one read the half-life of an isotope from this graph?

At what percent do we find the first half-life?

What is the half-life of Carbon-14 from this graph? Half-life of Uranium-238?

Part III: Measurement

On this one, you activate two separate events and then take readings of the amount of Carbon-14 and Uranium-238 in the objects.

Which item contains the Carbon-14? The Uranium-238?

Use the pause feature as you are taking the readings to find precise values of the half-lives.

At what percentages should we be reading the half-lives?

Use this data to create a function to model the half-life of both isotopes.

Part IV: Dating Game

Use your functions to estimate the date of two of the items (One C-14 and one U-238) in the dating game. Write down the name of the item and the estimated age of the item.

 

References:

Brain, Marshall and Lamb, Robert. (2000). How Nuclear Power Works. How Stuff Works. Retrieved from
https://science.howstuffworks.com/nuclear-power1.htm
Mastin, Luke. (2009). Important Scientists: Ernest Rutherford (1871-1937). The Physics of the Universe.
Retrieved from http://www.physicsoftheuniverse.com/scientists_rutherford.html
n.a. (2016). Willard Libby and Radiocarbon Dating. The American Chemical Society. Retrieved from
https://www.acs.org/content/acs/en/education/whatischemistry/landmarks/radiocarbon-dating.html
n.a. (n.d). Radioactive Dating Game. PHET Interactive Simulations. Retrieved from
https://phet.colorado.edu/en/simulation/radioactive-dating-game

 

 

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 Kelsi Kolbe. Her topic, from Precalculus: finding the equation of a circle.

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How can technology be used in order to engage the students on this topic?

A simple Desmos program can be used to see different circles and how the variables affect it. You can write a program on Desmos, where you have to manipulate a given circle to ‘collect all the stars.’ There are stars placed around where the circumference should be. Then the students you a variety of sliders to collect the stars. The sliders can change the radius, and move the circle left to right. I think this simple activity will introduce the parts of a circle equation, like the radius and the center, while the students have fun trying to beat their fellow classmates collect the most stars.

 

 

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

I think a circle themed “Clue” inspired activity could be fun. I would tell the students that there was a crime committed and the students had to use their math skills to figure out what the crime was, who did it, where they did it, and when they did it. The students would get an ‘investigation sheet’ to record their answers. Each group would start off with a question like, ‘Find the equation of a circle that has the center (2,3) and radius 7’. Each table would have an answer to the math questions that corresponds to a clue to answer one of the ‘who, what, where, where’ questions they are trying to figure out, and prompts the next question. Students would continue this process until one team thinks they have it and shouts “EUREKA!” then they say what they think happened and if they are right they win, if they aren’t we keep going until someone does.

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

Circles are seen in a lot of different Islamic Art. Islamic art is known for its geometrical mosaic art. They had a deep fascination with Euclidean geometry. The circle specifically holds meaning in the Islamic culture. The circle represents unity under a monotheistic God. Their religion is so important it can be seen throughout every aspect of their culture. The repetitiveness also symbolizes god infinite nature. For example, his infinite wisdom and love. Along with circles, the 8-point star is also seen as a very powerful symbol. It represents God’s light spreading over the world. The symbols are very important in the Islamic culture and is shown beautifully in a lot of their art. It’s beautiful how they can pack one art piece with so much geometry and also their beliefs.

Engaging students: Exponential Growth and Decay

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 Megan Termini. Her topic, from Precalculus: exponential growth and decay.

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

A fun and engaging activity for students learning about exponential growth and decay would be a zombie activity. The students will get a scenario about the zombie attacks and they will predict the way the zombie attacks will work. Then to begin, the teacher will be the only one infected and to show the infection, they will have a red dot on their hand. Then they will shut off the lights and turn them back on to indicate a new day. Then the teacher will “infect” one other student by putting a red dot on their hand. Then they will turn the lights off and turn back on for day 2. Then both the teacher and the infected student will both go “infect” one other person. Then it continues day by day until everyone in the class is infected. Then they will put their data in a table, graph it and can see that it is an exponential growth, then write an equation for it (Reference A). This is great way of getting the whole class involved and zombies are very popular with tv shows and movies. It also lets them explore, see the pattern, and try to come up with the equation on their own.

 

 

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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?

A great use of technology for graphing exponential growth and decay is Desmos. Desmos lets the students take an equation and plug it in to see the graph. They are also able to change the window to see it better. It also will give you the table for the function that you inputted. It’s good for students to graph it on here to see the graph and also, they are able to click anywhere on the graph to see the point they want. This also would be a good program for them to check their work after trying the problem on their own first (Reference B). Another great website is Math Warehouse. This website lets students explore the graph of exponential functions. Students can type in their function and can graph it. It also lets you compare it to y=x, y=x2, and y=x3. It also has the properties for exponential growth and decay. This website is great for students to interact with exponential functions and also explore them (Reference C).

 

 

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

Exponential functions stay with you all through your school career. You use them in many mathematics courses like algebra, algebra 2, pre-calculus, calculus, etc. You also use them in science courses like biology, chemistry, physics, etc. Understanding how to graph exponential growth and decay functions is a very important tool for future courses. For example, in algebra 2 the students will be learning about logarithms and exponentials, and will have to graph both of them and know the difference between them. Another example is in biology, comparing the number of births and the number of deaths of a species. The data may show an exponential growth in the number of births and exponential decay in the number of deaths, and the students would need to know how to plot the data points and graph it. It is also important for them to understand what the graph means and not just how to graph it. These are skills students will need in not only their future mathematics and science courses, but also in their future careers. For example, a biologist who studies a species of animals might have an exponential decay of the animal and would track its progress every week or every day and graph it to show the decrease of the amount of that species. Many students may not realize it now, but graphing exponential growth and decay is an important topic to understand how to do and why it is important to learn.

References:

A. “Zombies: Exploring Exponential Growth.” BetterLesson, betterlesson.com/lesson/460610/zombies-exploring-exponential-growth.
B. “Exponential Growth and Decay.” Desmos Graphing Calculator, http://www.desmos.com/calculator/d7dnmu5cuq.
C. “Interactive Exponential Function Graph/Applet.” Exponential Growth/Decay Graph Applet . Explore graph and equation of exponential functions| Math Warehouse, http://www.mathwarehouse.com/exponential-growth-and-decay/interactive-exponential-graph-applet.php.

 

 

Engaging students: Compound interest

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 Michelle Contreras. Her topic, from Precalculus: compound interest.

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

Compound interest can be something difficult to understand sometimes. That’s why before I even start refreshing my future pre-calculus class about the general formulas they are going to be working with, I would like to start the lesson with a “game”/ activity. Starting class with this activity can be beneficial in the long run because they are going to be more willing to pay attention the rest of class. The game is my own little twist of what we know is the marshmallow game. In the marshmallow game the teacher hands a marshmallow to one of her students challenging him/her to just hold on to it for about 10 minutes and not eat it. If the student managed to hold on and not ingest the marshmallow then the student would get another extra marshmallow. The teacher then ups the reward to two marshmallows more if the student manages to not eat any of the two marshmallows already in their possession.

My own twist in this game is instead of handing one of my students a marshmallow and challenging him/her to not eat it, I would give the student a fun sized M&M’s baggy and challenge him/her with that particular candy. I would then tell my student if he/her manages to not eat the baggy of M&M’s for a minute I would give them another baggy at the end of the minute. While I’m waiting for this minute to be over I would instruct half of the class to give a 30 second argument of why he/she should eat the chocolate right then and there. Then I’ll instruct the other half of the class to make an argument against eating the chocolate for 30 seconds, making the choice for him/her even more difficult. If the student manages to not eat the M&M’s then I will hand him the other baggy of chocolates as promised, then ask the student to wait another minute and not eat the candy’s and this time he/she will get 2 more baggies. What I hope the students are taking from this activity is that they see the connection between waiting a period of time to get more of the desired item. I would explain at the end of the activity that compound interest works in similar ways. When you decided to leave some money untouched in a savings account for a certain amount of time, the compensation for leaving your money alone will be making more money overtime.

 

 

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How did people’s conception of this topic change over time?

There has been a 360 degree change in the way we view compound interest today than how people/communities viewed it long time ago. There has been evidence in texts from the Christian and Islamic faith that talk about how compound interest is a sin or a usury. Back then the people thought if you lend money to a person there should be no interest being added to the loan because that would not be morally right to do to someone in need. Things have changed drastically since those times. We consider someone “smart” or being successful if you earn an interest in whatever it is they are doing. There was also talk about a Roman law where having interest on a loan was illegal. I believe many people changed their view or simply saw compound interest rate as something that would be beneficial financially because of what Albert Einstein once said. There’s speculation that he said “Compound Interest is the eighth wonder of the world. He who understands it, earns it…he who doesn’t….pays it.”

 

 

green lineHow has this topic appeared in pop culture (movies, TV, current music, video games, etc.)?

While searching online about compound interest I ran upon a really cool video clip from one of the episodes from the animated T.V show Futurama. In this video clip it talks about Fry, the main character in the T.V show, trying to find out how much money he has in his bank account after being accidently frozen for 1,000 years. The video clip itself is pretty interesting and funny so I believe it would capture the kiddo’s attention. I would probably start with this video the following class day after starting the compound interest lesson. Before showing the video clip to my students, I would explain to them the situation that Fry is in and will ask my kiddos to make a guess of how much money he has in his bank account just by letting them know he was frozen for 1,000 years. I would then proceed to show them the video clip and leave out the part where the lady say’s the amount of money currently in his bank account and have the kiddos calculate the amount themselves with the given principal, interest rate, and amount of time. After giving the kids 2 minutes I would reveal the answer by playing the full video.

 

References:

“The Marshmallow Game” https://blog.kasasa.com/2016/04/marshmallow-game-compound-interest/
“Usury: a Universal Sin” http://www.giveshare.org/BibleStudy/050.usury.html
“Albert Einstein” https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/76863-compound-interest-is-the-eighth-wonder-of-the-world-he
Futurama; http://threeacts.mrmeyer.com/frysbank/

 

Engaging students: Graphing an ellipse

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 Peter Buhler. His topic, from Precalculus: graphing an ellipse.

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

One project that could be assigned to students during the unit on conic sections could be to challenge students to either find or make an ellipse. This could be with a household object, a computer simulated object, or it could be something such as the movement of the planets around the sun. Students would be expected to visually display their object(s) of choice, as well as provide an equation for the ellipse. For example, if the student chose to use a deflated basketball or football, students would use the actual units found when measuring the object and then create an equation for that ellipse. Of course, students would also be expected to graph the ellipse using the appropriate equation, and then check the graph with the actual object (if possible). This project would allow students to be creative in choosing something of ellipse form, and would allow them to further explore the graphing and equation-building of an ellipse.

 

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

While graphing an ellipse is a topic within the Pre-Calculus curriculum, it also has applications within other topics as well. One of these is the unit circle, which is also taught in most Pre-Calculus courses. The unit circle is simply an ellipse where both major and minor axis are of length 1, as well as the center at (0,0). Students can be encouraged to draw comparisons between the two topics. Not only can they rewrite the equation of an ellipse to fit the unit circle, but students can also use the distance formula to calculate sine and cosine values on the unit circle. They can then use the distance formula on various forms of an ellipse, and compare and contrast between the two.

Later on in a students’ mathematical career, some students may encounter ellipse used in three dimensions in Calculus III, in an engineering course, or even in an astronomy course. Ellipses have many applications, and students may benefit from you (as the teacher) perhaps mentioning some of these applications when going over the unit on conic sections.

 

 

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How has this topic appeared in high culture?

One particularly intriguing application of an ellipse (among many applications) is in the design of a whispering gallery. This is essentially a piece of architecture that is designed in the shape of an ellipse so that when someone is standing at one focus of the ellipse, they can clearly hear someone whispering from the exact location of the other focus. Some of examples of these “whispering rooms include St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Echo Wall in Beijing, and in the U.S. Capitol building. It has been commonly noted that President John Quincy Adams would eavesdrop on others while standing in the Capitol, simply due to the physics of sound waves traveling inside an ellipse shaped building.

On a more personal business, I can remember multiple visits to the Science Museum in Fair Park, where various forms of sciences were displayed in formats that children (and adults!) could interact with. There was one exhibit that was set up for several years that also incorporated this ellipse-shaped architecture. I remember it clearly, due to the fact that I was so fascinated with how I could stand 30 yards from someone and be able to hear their whisper clearly. This could also be a class project or even a class trip that would allow students to hypothesize why this works the way it does. It can be noted that this would work for both Physics and Math classes, as it has applications to both.

Sources:
http://www.twc.edu/twcnow/blogs/student/10179/fun-fact-capitol-hill
http://thedistrict.com/sightseeing/other-washington-d-c-attractions/u-s-capitol/

Engaging students: Defining sine, cosine and tangent in a right triangle

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 Jessica Williams. Her topic, from Geometry: defining sine, cosine and tangent in a right triangle.

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

I’ve actually had the opportunity to teach this lesson to my 10th graders last semester. It is a difficult concept for the students to understand, however if you teach it in a way the students are actively engaged, it helps extremely. Prior to this lesson, the students knew about the hypotenuse and knew the other sides lengths as “legs.” We started by calling 3 students up to the front to hold up our three triangle posters. (triangle cut outs with the 90 degree angle showing and then there was an agle missing). We asked the students how we could find a missing angle given only one side length. For starters, I demonstrated on one triangle by placing a spray water bottle at the missing angle given, and spray the water across.
I will then ask one student to come up to help me demonstrate on the other two triangles. We asked the student where the water is spraying. All of them said words along the lines of “across, away from the angle.” We eventually got to the word opposite. Then we called two students up to demonstrate with the water bottle to determine which side is opposite. If we always know the hypotenuse is the leg across from 90 degree angle, and the opposite side is the one across from the missing angle, then we discovered the last leg must be the adjacent side. Which adjacent means, “next to” or “beside”. Next, we teacher-lead the students through a SOH-CAH-TOA foldable under the doc cam. This was important because they used to later to answer multiple questions using smart pals. Smart pal questions on the board, allowed for EACH student to have to answer and show their work on their smart pal in order to hold it up once we asked for answers. This allowed for formative assessment for the teachers and for the students to see if they were correctly answering the questions. Next we incorporated a “find someone who” Kagan structure tool, which allowed the students to all be actively engaged and answering questions regarding the task. Then we explained and went over misconceptions as a class. It was a very successful lesson overall, and the students were all actively engaged the entire time!

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What interesting things can you say about the people who contributed to the discovery and/or the development of this topic?

Trigonometry was originally developed for the use of sailing as a navigation method. The origins can be traced back to ancient Egypt, the Indus Valley, and Mesopotamia. This was over 4000 years ago. Measuring angles in degrees, minutes, and seconds comes from the Babylonian’s base 60 system of numbers. In 150 B.C.E, Hipparchus made a trigonometric table using sine to solve triangles. Later on, Ptolemy extended the trig calculations in 100 C.E. Also, in interesting fact is the ancient Sinhalese used trig to calculate for water flow. Persian mathematician Abul Wafa introduced the angle addition identities. As you can see, there are MANY different mathematicians who distributed to the topic of trigonometry. A lot of them built upon previous work and discovered new formulas, identities, etc. It’s amazing to see how even trigonometry is used to every day life. You always hear people say, “When will I ever use this is life?” and it bugs me to hear this. However, I always have examples of how math is used in our everyday world and from a past long ago that advanced us to where we are today.

 

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

I would show this video that I found on youtube. I would exclude the first movie example that involves shooting, however the rest are great examples.

Showing movie clips to students is always a great way to grab their attention. Visually showing them that math is a part of movies, and every day life shows them that it is important. This video would also be great to use as practice problem, but blur out one of the side lengths or angles missing. You could play the movie scene then pause it on the part with the triangle and have the students solve for missing angle or side length. It would be a fun activity for the students and involve great practice. You could even make this a homework assignment. It’s engaging to watch and keeps the student’s attention while doing homework. The video shows that math is involved in dancing, buildings, etc. This activity also can excite students to try to find math in the movies or tv shows that the watch. You could assign the students to pay attention to to the next couple of shows or movies the watch and to bring back to class an example or two of how math was incorporated in it. Mathematics goes unnoticed because it is honestly part of our everyday norm/lifestyle.

References: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LYNN0OYDUB4

http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Trigonometry

 

Engaging students: Vectors in two dimensions

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 Sarah McCall. Her topic, from Precalculus: vectors in two dimensions.

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

For such an applicable topic, I believe that it is beneficial to have students see how this might apply to their lives and to real world problems. I selected the following word problems because they are challenging, but I think it is necessary for students to be a little frustrated initially so that they are able to learn well and remember what they’ve learned.

1. A DC-10 jumbo jet maintains an airspeed of 550 mph in a southwesterly direction. The velocity of the jet stream is a constant 80 mph from the west. Find the actual speed and direction of the aircraft.

2. The pilot of an aircraft wishes to head directly east, but is faced with a wind speed of 40 mph from the northwest. If the pilot maintains an airspeed of 250 mph, what compass heading should be maintained? What is the actual speed of the aircraft?

3. A river has a constant current of 3 kph. At what angle to a boat dock should a motorboat, capable of maintaining a constant speed of 20 kph, be headed in order to reach a point directly opposite the dock? If the river is ½ a kilometer wide, how long will it take to cross?

Because these problems are difficult, students would be instructed to work together to complete them. This would alleviate some frustrations and “stuck” feelings by allowing them to ask for help. Ultimately, talking through what they are doing and successfully completing challenging problems will take students to a deeper level of involvement with their own learning.

 

 

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

I believe vectors are fairly easy to teach because there are so many real life applications of vectors. However, it can be difficult to get students initially engaged. For this activity, I would have students work in groups to complete a project inspired by Khan Academy’s videos on vector word problems. Students would split off into groups and watch each of the three videos on Khan Academy that have to do with applications of vectors in two dimensions. Using these videos as an example, students will be instructed to come up with a short presentation or video that teaches other students about vectors in two dimensions using real world applications and examples.

 

 

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

Immediately when I see vectors, I think of one specific movie quote from my late childhood that I’ll always remember. The villain named Vector from Despicable Me who “commits crimes with both direction AND magnitude” is a fellow math nerd and is therefore one of my favorite Disney villains of all time. So of course, I had to find the clip (linked below) because I think it is absolutely perfect for engaging students in a lesson about vectors as soon as they walk in the door, and it is memorable and educational. I would refer back to this video several times throughout the lesson and in future lessons because it is a catchy way to remember the two components to vectors. This would also be great to kick off a unit on scalars and vectors, because it would get kids laughing and therefore engaged, plus they will always remember the difference between a scalar and a vector (direction AND magnitude!).  

References:

  1. https://www.khanacademy.org/math/precalculus/vectors-precalc/applications-of-vectors/v/vector-component-in-direction
  2. https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=2&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwj42PaGqojXAhXKSiYKHTvLD8oQFgguMAE&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.jessamine.k12.ky.us%2Fuserfiles%2F1038%2FClasses%2F17195%2FVector%2520Word%2520Problems%2520Practice%2520Worksheet%25202.docx&usg=AOvVaw1IHTinEQtGK4Ww1_JkBhHf
  3. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bOIe0DIMbI8

Engaging students: Graphing Sine and Cosine Functions

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 Saundra Francis. Her topic, from Precalculus: graphing sine and cosine functions.

green lineHow has this topic appeared in pop culture (movies, TV, current music, video games, etc.)?

To engage students you can have them record a song using the WavePad app. Have students choose a clip of their favorite song to record. Once they record the song they choose, the app will display the sound waves compiled that are used to create the sounds in the song the song. Students will realize that sound waves are in the form of the sine function. This will engage students since you would have related the topic of graphing sine and cosine functions to their favorite song. You could also have students create their own sounds and record them with the app to see the graph associated with the sound they made. Students can look at their sound and other classmates sounds are recognize differences in the waves, you can relate this to the equation f(x)=asin(bx+c)+d. You can them work with students to discover what the constants terms mean in relation to the parent function of sine.

 

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

Sine waves are the basis of sound. Have a piece by Beethoven playing while students are entering the classroom. Tell students that Beethoven was able to create music while he was in the process of becoming deaf. Ask students how they think Beethoven was able to create music in spite of that set back. After you have students share some answers show them the video above which explains how Beethoven’s music (all music) is related to sine waves. The music of his “Moonlight Sonata” is explained using math in the TED-Ed video. While Beethoven did not use this method to create his music he said that he knew what the music looked like. This will show students an example of how sine graphs are used in real life and get them interested in graphing sine and cosine functions.

 

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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.

Students will be given a TI-Nspire calculator in order to discover how changing the amplitude, period, horizontal shift, or vertical shift changes the equation of sine. Students will start with the graph of f(x)=sinx. They will then manipulate the graph on the calculator to change the function. Have them move the function up and down, right and left, and work with the slope of sinx and the slope of the x. Have students write dawn some of their new functions and sketch the graph. They will then compare how changing the graph effects the equation of f(x)=sinx. Introduce f(x)=asin(bx+c)+d . Give students some time to compare the functions that they created to the formula and describe how each constant changes the graph. Students will hopefully discover how the function f(x)=asin(bx+c)+d relates to amplitude, period, horizontal shift, and vertical shift.

References
1. https://education.ti.com/en/timathnspired/us/detail?id=4E9BA7808CA74F6599BD5EA2037C088A&t=C52AEC55A39243D182772F76318B901C
2. https://www.smore.com/gy9h4-sine-waves-and-music
3. https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=16&v=zAxT0mRGuoY

Engaging students: Dot product

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 Trent Pope. His topic, from Precalculus: computing a dot product.

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What interesting (i.e., uncontrived) word problems using this topic can your students do now? (You may find resources such as http://www.spacemath.nasa.gov to be very helpful in this regard; feel free to suggest others.)

This website gives an example of a word problem that students could solve, and it has real-world applications. It is not a complete worksheet for students to work on. The teacher would have to create more word problems incorporating the idea of this website. The example on this web page is that you are a local store owner and are selling beef, chicken, and vegetable pies 3 days a week. The owner has a list of how many pies he sells a day and how much they cost. The cost of beef pies are $3, chicken pies are $4, and vegetable pies are $2. On Monday he sells 13 beef, 8 chicken, and 6 vegetable pies. Tuesday he sells 9 beef, 7 chicken, and 4 vegetable pies. Finally, on Thursday the owner sold 15 beef, 6 chicken, and 3 vegetable pies. Now, let’s think about how we can solve for the total number of sales for Monday. First, we would solve for the sales of the beef pies by multiplying the price of the pie and the number we sold. Then we would do the same for chicken and vegetable pies. After finding the sales of the three pies, we would add up sales to get the total amount for the day. In this case, we would get $83 of sales on Monday. The students would do the same thing for the other days the store is open. This is an example of the dot product of matrices in a word problem.

https://www.mathsisfun.com/algebra/matrix-multiplying.html

 

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

An idea I was able to see in an actual classroom during observation this week was the use of Fantasy Football in matrices. A teacher at Lake Dallas High School has her classes in a Football Fantasy League competing against each other. The way they started this activity is that the students have to keep up with the points that their teams are earning. They are doing this by the information the teacher gives them about how to score their players. Each class chooses one quarterback, running back, wide receiver, kicker, and defense to represent their team. The point system is the same as in the online fantasy. For instance, Aaron Rodgers, quarterback for the Green Bay Packers, throws for 300 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception. The points Rodgers earns you for the week comes from taking the several yards and multiplying by the points earned for each yard. Then, do the same for touchdowns and interceptions. After computing this, you will then add the numbers up to get the total points you receive from Aaron for the week. This is using dot product because we have two matrices, which are the stats that the player receives in the game, and the points you get for those same stats. By doing this activity, the students would be working on this aspect of pre-calculus for the entire football season.

 

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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.

Graphing calculators would be a great way to use technology to teach this topic. When computing the dot product of two matrices, there are two ways to do it. One is by hand and the other is a calculator. As the teacher, it would be more efficient for you to see how students are learning the material by having them compute it by hand, but no student wants to do that with every problem. A way the teacher could incorporate solving for the dot product using a calculator in an engaging way would be to have students complete a scavenger hunt. In the scavenger hunt, students will have to solve problems of the dot product to get the next clue and move on to the next. The idea of this would be for the students to show that they can work the calculator and actually get answers. You could have anywhere from five to ten questions for them to solve and decoy answers throughout the room with little mishaps. This would get the students up and moving for this activity

 

Decimal Approximations of Logarithms (Part 5)

While some common (i.e., base-10) logarithms work out evenly, like \log_{10} 10,000, most do not. Here is the typical output when a scientific calculator computes a logarithm:

In today’s post, I’ll summarize the past few posts to describe how talented Algebra II students, who have just been introduced to logarithms, can develop proficiency with the Laws of Logarithms while also understanding that the above answer is not just a meaningless jumble of digits. The only tools students will need are

To estimate \log_{10} 5.1264, Algebra II students can try to find a power of 5.1264 that is close to a power of 10. In principle, this can be done by just multiplying by 5.1264 until an answer decently close to 5.1264 arises. For the teacher who’s guiding students through this exploration, it might be helpful to know the answer ahead of time.

One way to do this is to use Wolfram Alpha to find the convergents of \log_{10} 5.1264. If you click this link, you’ll see that I entered

Convergents[Log[10,5.1264],15]

A little explanation is in order:

  • Convergents, predictably, is the Mathematica command for finding the convergents of a given number.
  • Log[10,5.1264] is the base-10 logarithm of 5.1264. By contrast, Log[5.1264] is the natural logarithm of 5.1264. Mathematica employs the convention of that \log should be used for natural logarithms instead of \ln, as base-10 logarithms are next to useless for mathematical researchers. That said, I freely concede that this convention is confusing to students who grew up thinking that \log should be used for base-10 logarithms and \ln for natural logarithms. (See also my standard joke about using natural logarithms.) Naturally, the 5.1264 can be changed for other logarithms.
  • The 15 means that I want Wolfram Alpha to give me the first 15 convergents of \log_{10} 5.1264. In most cases, that’s enough terms to provide a convergent whose denominator is at least six digits long. In the rare instance when this doesn’t happen, a number larger than 15 can be entered.

From Wolfram Alpha, I see that \displaystyle \frac{22}{31} is the last convergent with a numerator less than 100. For the purposes of this exploration, I interpret these fractions as follows:

  • The best suitable power of 5.1264 for an easy approximation on a scientific calculation will be (5.1264)^{31}. In this context, “best” means something that’s close to a power of 10 but less than 10^{100}. Students entering (5.1264)^{31} into a calculator will find

(5.1264)^{31} \approx 1.009687994 \times 10^{22}

(5.1264)^{31} \approx 10^{22}

In other words, the denominator of the convergent \displaystyle \frac{22}{31} gives the exponent for 5.1264, while the numerator gives the exponent for the approximated power of 10. Continuing with the Laws of Logarithms,

\log_{10} (5.1264)^{31} \approx \log_{10} 10^{22}

31 \log_{10} 5.1264 \approx 22

\log_{10} 5.1264 \approx \displaystyle \frac{22}{31}

\log_{10} 5.1264 \approx 0.709677\dots

A quick check with a calculator shows that this approximation is accurate to three decimal places. This alone should convince many students that the above apparently random jumble of digits is not so random after all.

While the above discussion should be enough for many students, some students may want to know how to find the rest of the decimal places with this technique. To answer this question, we again turn to the convergents of \log_{10} 5.1264 from Wolfram Alpha. From this list, we see that \displaystyle \frac{89,337}{125,860} is the first convergent with a denominator at least six digits long. The student therefore has two options:

Option #1. Ask the student to use Wolfram Alpha to raise 5.1264 to the denominator of this convergent. Surprisingly to the student, but not surprisingly to the teacher who knows about this convergent, the answer is very close to a power of 10: 10^{89,337}. The student can then use the Laws of Logarithms as before:

\log_{10} (5.1264)^{125,860} \approx \log_{10} 10^{89,337}

125,860 \log_{10} 5.1264 \approx 89,337

\log_{10} 5.1264 \approx \displaystyle \frac{89,337}{125,860}

\log_{10} 5.1264 \approx 0.70981249006\dots,

which matches the output of the calculator.

Option #2. Ask the student to “trick” a hand-held calculator into finding (5.1264)^{125,860}. This option requires the use of the convergent with the largest numerator less than 100, which was \displaystyle \frac{22}{31}.

  • Option #2A: Use the Microsoft Excel spreadsheet that I’ve written to perform the calculations that follow.
  • Option #2B: The student divides the smaller denominators into the larger denominator and finds the quotient and remainder. It turns out that 125,860 = 31 \times 4060 + 0. (This is a rare case where there happens to be no remainder.) Next, the student uses a hand-held calculate to compute

\displaystyle \left( \frac{(5.1264)^{31}}{10^{22}} \right)^{4060} \times (5.1264)^0

In this example, the \times (5.1264)^0 is of course superfluous, but I include it here to show where the remainder should be placed. Entering this in a calculator yields a result that is close to 10^{17}. (The teacher should be aware that some of the last few digits may differ from the more precise result given by Wolfram Alpha due to round-off error, but this discrepancy won’t matter for the purposes of the student’s explorations.) In other words,

\displaystyle \left( \frac{(5.1264)^{31}}{10^{22}} \right)^{4060} \times (5.1264)^0 \approx 10^{17},

which may be rearranged as

(5.1264)^{125,860} \approx 10^{89,337}

after using the Laws of Exponents. From this point, the derivation follows the steps in Option #1.