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 Fidel Gonzales. His topic, from Precalculus: vectors in two dimensions.

green line

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

When a student learns about vectors in two dimensions, they worry about the magnitude of the vector and the direction that it goes. The direction is kept within its limitations which are up, down, left, and right. A student might be curious as to how this topic can be extended further. The way it extends further is by extending vectors into higher dimensions. It is even possible to extend vectors to the sixth dimension! However, for the sake of showing how vectors in two dimensions extend to future courses in math, we will stick to three-dimensions. Learning about vectors in the second dimension creates groundwork to learn about vectors in the third dimension. With the third dimension, vectors could be seen from our point of view compared to seeing it in the two dimensions on paper. The new perspective of the third dimension in vectors includes up, down, left, right, forward, and backwards. Having the new dimension to account for will give students a bigger tie into how mathematics applies into the real world.

green line

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

Vectors in the two dimension is used all around our everyday life and we as people rarely notice it. The most common use of vectors in our culture is a quantity displaying a magnitude and direction. This is normally done on a x and y graph. Now you might be asking yourself, I do not play any types of games that sound like this. I am here to tell you that you do. One game that iPhone users play without noticing this would be a game on gamepigeon called knockout. The game appears to be an innocent game of knocking out your friends’ penguins while keeping yours in the designated box. However, math is involved, and you probably didn’t notice. First you must anticipate where the enemy is going. Then you must decide how strong you want to launch your penguin troopers without making them fall out of the ring. Does that sound familiar? Having to apply a force (magnitude) and direction to a quantity. Congratulations, you have now had fun doing math. Next time you are playing a game, try to see if there is any involvement of vectors in two dimensions involved.green line

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

Vectors in two dimensions has many ways to be incorporated in the classroom. A way to do so while connecting to the real world would be having an activity where the students tell a robot where to go using vectors. The students will have a robot that can walk around and in need of directions. The students will be given maps and asked to create a path for the robot to end up in its destination. Essentially, programming the robot to navigate though a course solely using vectors. If the robot falls or walks too far, then the student will realize that either the magnitude was wrong or the direction. Some students might seem to think this would be impractical to the real world, however, there is always a way to show relevance to students. Towards the end of the activity, the students will be asked to guide me to around the class using vectors. Then to sweeten the deal, they will also be asked to show me on a map being projected to them how to get to McDonald’s. Students will realize that vectors in the second dimension could be used to give directions to somewhere and can be applied to everyday life.  They will walk outside of the classroom seeing math in the real world from a different perspective.

References:

https://www.khanacademy.org/science/physics/two-dimensional-motion/two-dimensional-projectile-mot/v/visualizing-vectors-in-2-dimensions

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 Lydia Rios. Her topic, from Precalculus: compound interest.

green line

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

While this concept is tied with business which is something that started rapidly changing in the early nineteen hundreds, we have understand that there is an accrued interest on loans long before then. People would loan out seeds or cattle and the interest would be paid after a harvest or with the young of the cattle. Of course now we use this concept mathematically but the concept still holds. We understand that there is a base fee and you must return that fee along with a little more. We then started using this with loose change and then as our currency changed from the gold standard we adapted to a new understanding of compound interest. Today we use the equation A = P \left(1 + \frac{r}{n} \right)^{nt} , where A is the amount accumulated, P is the principal, r is interest rate, n is the compound period and t is the number of periods.

Compound Interest Is Responsible for Modern Civilization (businessinsider.com)

green line

What are the contributions of various cultures to this topic?

We have all experienced trade over the years. Native Americans would trade corn for other goods and offered payment plus interest with their corn harvest. The Silks Roads was a network of trading routes where China and other countries would trade textiles and other materials. They established the concept of payment and interest for purchases. Banks in America and other countries also have a set principal and a interest, whether this be in reference to your savings account or the billed interest on your credit card purchases. Even the invention of cars played a part on this and how our interest can decrease with the deterioration of the car. Over the years your interest payment can go down as the worth of the car goes down.

green line

How have different cultures throughout time used this topic in their society?

Native Americans used compound interest to create trade deals a maintain some status of peace. China had their silk roads where they turned a profit and tried to maintain a sense of livelihood. For some cultures this was their only source of income, if they didn’t’ make some sort of trade then they had nothing to bring home. For others, such as the Native Americans, the trade itself was to protect their lives and the interest was something they owed. We can even see reference to this with the trade markets in Disney’s Aladdin, Aladdin cannot make a trade as he is a peasant but we see other village people making trades and we grasp the concept of worth from each object.

Engaging students: Deriving the double angle formulas for sine, cosine, and tangent

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 Precalculus: deriving the double angle formulas for sine, cosine, and tangent. green line How could you as a teacher create an activity or project that involves your topic? I want to provide some variety for opportunities to make this an engaging opportunity for Precalculus students and some Calculus students. Here are my three thoughts: IDEA 1: For precalculus students in a regular or advanced class, have them derive this formula in groups. After students are familiar with the Pythagorean identities and with angle sum identities, group students and ask them to derive a formula for double angles Sin(2θ), Cos(2θ), Tan(2θ). Let them struggle a bit, and if needed give them some hints such as useful formulas and ways to represent multiplication so that it looks like other operations. From here, encourage students to simplify when they can and challenge students to find the other formulas of Cos(2θ). Ask students to speculate instances when each formula for Cos(2θ) would be advantageous. This gives students confidence in their own abilities and show how math is interconnected and not just a bunch of trivial formulas. Lastly, to challenge students, have them come up with an alternative way to prove Tan(2θ), notably Sin(2θ)/Cos(2θ). This would make an appropriate activity for students while having them continue practicing proving trigonometric identities. IDEA 2: This next idea should be implemented for an advanced Precal class, and only when there is some time to spare. Euler was an intelligent man and left us with the Euler’s Formula: e^{ix}=\cos x + i \sin x. Have Precalculus students suspend their questions about where it comes from and what it is used for. This is not something they would use in their class. Reassure them that for what they will do, all they need to understand is imaginary numbers, multiplying imaginary numbers, and laws of exponents. Have them plug in x = A + B and simplify the right-hand side of the equation so that we get: \cos(A+B)+i\sin(A+B)= a + bi where a and b are two real numbers. The goal here is to get \cos(A+B)+i\sin(A+B)= \cos \theta \cos \theta - \sin \theta \sin \theta + (\sin \theta \cos \theta + \cos \theta \sin \theta)i. All the steps to get to this point is Algebra, nothing out of their grasp. Now, the next part is to really get their brains going about what meaning we can make of this. If they are struggling, have them think about the implications of two imaginary numbers being equal; the coefficient of the real parts and imaginary parts must be equal to each other. Lastly, ask them if these equations seem familiar, where are they from, and what are they called…the angle sum formulas. From here, this can lead into what if x=2A? Students will either brute force the formula again, and others will realize x = A + A and plug it in to the equation they just derived and simplify. This idea is a 2-in-1 steal for the angle sum formulas and double angle formulas. It’s biggest downside is this is for Sin(2θ) and Cos(2θ).   IDEA 3: Take IDEA 2, and put it in a Calculus 2 class. Everything that the precalculus class remains, but now have the paired students prove the Euler’s Formula using Taylor Series. Guide them through using the Taylor Series to figure out a Taylor Series representation of e^x, sin x,  and cos x. Then ask students to find an expanded Taylor Series of to 12 terms with ellipses, no need to evaluate each term, just the precise term. Give hints such as i^2= -1 and to consider i^3=i^2 \cdot i = -i and other similar cases. Lastly, ask students to separate the extended series in a way that mimics a + bi using ellipses to shows the series goes to infinity. What they should find is something like this:
Look familiar? Well it is the addition of two Taylor Series that represent Sin(x) and Cos(x). This is the last connection students need to make. Give hints to look through their notes to see why the “a” and “b” in the imaginary number look so familiar. This, is just one way to prove Euler’s Formula, then you can continue with IDEA 2 until your students prove the angle sum formulas and double angle formulas.green line How does this topic extend what your students should have learned in previous courses? Students in Texas will typically be exposed to the Pythagorean Theorem in 8th grade. At this stage, students use a^2+b^2=c^2 to find a missing side length. Students may also be exposed to Pythagorean triples at this stage. Then at the Geometry level or in a Trigonometry section, students will be exposed to the Pythagorean Identity. The Identity is \sin^2 \theta + \cos^2 \theta = 1.  I think that this is not fair for students to just learn this identity without connecting it to the Pythagorean Theorem. I think it would be a nice challenge student to solve for this identity by using a right triangle with hypotenuse c so that Sin (θ) = b/c and cos (θ) = a/c, one could then show either c^2 \sin^2 \theta + c^2 \cos^2 \theta = c^2 and thus c^2(\sin^2 \theta + \cos^2 \theta) = c^2 or one could show (a/c)^2 + (b/c)^2 = (c/c)^2 = 1 (using the Pythagorean theorem). From here, students learn about the angle addition and subtraction formulas in Precalculus. This is all that they need to derive the double angle formulas.

\sin(\alpha + \beta) = \sin \alpha \cos \beta + \cos \alpha \sin \beta

\sin(\alpha - \beta) = \sin \alpha \cos \beta - \cos \alpha \sin \beta

\cos(\alpha + \beta) = \cos \alpha \cos \beta - \sin \alpha \sin \beta

\cos(\alpha - \beta) = \cos \alpha \cos \beta + \sin \alpha \sin \beta

\tan(\alpha + \beta) = \displaystyle \frac{\tan \alpha + \tan \beta}{1 - \tan \alpha \tan \beta}

\tan(\alpha - \beta) = \displaystyle \frac{\tan \alpha - \tan \beta}{1 + \tan \alpha \tan \beta}

This would be a good challenge exercise for students to do in pairs. Sin(2θ) = Sin(θ + θ), Cos(2 θ) = Cos(θ + θ), Tan(2θ) = Tan(θ + θ). Now we can apply the angle sum formula where both angles are equal: Sin(2θ) = sin(θ)cos(θ) + cos(θ)sin(θ) = 2sin(θ)cos(θ) Cos(2θ) = cos(θ)cos(θ) – sin(θ)sin(θ) =  (We use a Pythagorean Identity here) Tan(2θ) = \displaystyle \frac{\tan \theta + \tan \theta}{1 - \tan^2 \theta} = \frac{2 \tan \theta}{1-\tan^2 \theta} Bonus challenge, use Sin(2θ) and Cos(2θ) to get Tan(2θ). Well, if \tan \theta = \displaystyle \frac{\sin \theta}{\cos \theta}, then

\tan 2\theta = \displaystyle \frac{\sin 2\theta}{\cos 2\theta}

= \displaystyle \frac{2 \sin \theta \cos \theta}{\cos^2 \theta - \sin^2 \theta}

= \displaystyle \frac{ \frac{2 \sin \theta \cos \theta}{\cos^2 \theta} }{ \frac{\cos^2 \theta - \sin^2 \theta}{\cos^2 \theta} }

= \displaystyle \frac{2 \tan \theta}{1 - \tan^2 \theta}

The derivations are straight forward, and I believe that many students get off the hook by not being exposed to deriving many trigonometric identities and taking them as facts. This is in the grasp of an average 10th to 12th grader. green line What are the contributions of various cultures to this topic? I have included four links that talk about the history of Trigonometry. It seemed that ancient societies would need to know about the Pythagorean Identities and the angles sum formulas to know the double angle formulas. Here is our problem, it’s hard to know who “did it first?” and when “did they know it?”. Mathematical proofs and history were not kept as neatly written record but as oral traditions, entertainment, hobbies, and professions. The truth is that from my reading, many cultures understood the double angle formula to some extent independently of each other, even if there was no formal proof or record of it. Looking back at my answer to B2, it seems that the double angle formula is almost like a corollary to knowing the angle sum formulas, and thus to understand one could imply knowledge of the other. Perhaps, it was just not deemed important to put the double angle formula into a category of its own. Many of the people who figured out these identities were doing it because they were astronomers, navigators, or carpenters (construction). Triangles and circles are very important to these professions. Knowledge of the angle sum formula was known in Ancient China, Ancient India, Egypt, Greece (originally in the form of broken chords theorem by Archimedes), and the wider “Medieval Islamic World”. Do note that that Egypt, Greece, and the Medieval Islamic World were heavily intertwined as being on the east side of the Mediterranean and being important centers of knowledge (i.e. Library of Alexandria.) Here is the thing, their knowledge was not always demonstrated in the same way as we know it today. Some cultures did have functions similar to the modern trigonometric functions today, and an Indian mathematician, Mādhava of Sangamagrāma, figured out the Taylor Series approximations of those functions in the 1400’s. Greece and China for example relayed heavily on displaying knowledge of trigonometry in ideas of the length of lines (rods) as manifestations of variables and numbers. Ancient peoples didn’t have calculators, and they may have defined trigonometric functions in a way that would be correct such as the “law of sines” or a “Taylor series”, but still relied on physical “sine tables” to find a numerical representation of sine to n numbers after the decimal point. How we think of Geometry and Trigonometry today may have come from Descartes’ invention of the Cartesian plane as a convenient way to bridge Algebra and Geometry. References: https://www.mathpages.com/home/kmath205/kmath205.htm https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_trigonometry https://www.ima.umn.edu/press-room/mumford-and-pythagoras-theorem

Engaging students: Computing the cross product of two vectors

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 Precalculus: computing the cross product of two vectors.

green line

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

I found one of the real-life examples of the cross product of two vectors on a website called Quora. One person shares an example that when a door is opened or closed, the angular momentum it has is equal to r \times p, where p is the linear momentum of the free end of the door being opened or closed, and r is the perpendicular distance from the hinges on which the door rotates and the free end of the door. This example gives me an idea to create an example about designing a room. I try to find an example that closes to my idea and I do find an example. Here is the project that I will design for my students. “If everyone here is a designer and belongs to the same team. The team has a project which is to design a house for a client. Your manager, Mr. Johnson provides a detail of the master room to you and he wants you to calculate the area of the master room to him by the end of the day. He will provide every detail of the master room in three-dimension design paper and send it to you in your email. In the email, he provides that the room ABCD with \vec{AB} = \langle -2,2,5 \rangle and \vec{AD} = \langle 5,6,3 \rangle. Find the area of the room  (I will also draw the room (parallelogram ABCD) in three dimensions and show students).”

Reference:

https://www.quora.com/What-are-some-daily-life-examples-of-dot-and-cross-vector-products

https://www.nagwa.com/en/videos/903162413640/

green line

 

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

This topic is talking about computing cross product of two vectors in three dimensions. First, students should have learned what a vector is. Second, students should know how to represent vectors and points in space and how to distinguish vectors and points. Notice that when students try to write the vector in space, they need to use the arrow. Next, since we are talking about how to distinguish the vectors and the points, here students should learn the notations of vectors and what each notation means. For example, \vec{v} = 1{\bf i} + 2 {\bf j} + 3 {\bf k}. Notice that 1{\bf i} + 2 {\bf j} + 3 {\bf k} represents the vectors in three dimensions. After understanding the definition of the vectors, students are going to learn how to do the operation of vectors. They start with doing the addition and scalar multiplication, and magnitude. One more thing that students should learn before learning the cross product which is the dot product. However, students should understand and master how to do the vector operation before they learn the dot product since the dot product is not easy. Students should have learned these concepts and do practices to make sure they are familiar with the vector before they learn the cross products.

References:

https://www.khanacademy.org/math/multivariable-calculus/thinking-about-multivariable-function/x786f2022:vectors-and-matrices/a/vectors-and-notation-mvc

https://www.khanacademy.org/math/multivariable-calculus/thinking-about-multivariable-function/x786f2022:vectors-and-matrices/a/dot-products-mvc

green line

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

Most people have the misconception that the cross product of two vectors is another vector. Also, the majority of calculus textbooks have the same misconception that the cross product of two vectors is just simply another vector. However, as time goes on, mathematicians and scientists can explain by starting from the perspective of dyadic instead of the traditional short‐sighted definition. Also, we can represent the multiplication of vectors by showing it in a geometrical picture to prove that encompasses both the dot and cross products in any number of dimensions in terms of orthogonal unit vector components. Also, by using the way that the limitation of such an entity to exactly a three‐dimensional space does not allow for one of the three metric motions (reflection in a mirror). We can understand that the intrinsic difference between true vectors and pseudo‐vectors.

Reference:

https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/0020739970280407

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 Ashlyn Farley. Her topic, from Precalculus: exponential growth and decay.

green line

The most current example of exponential growth and decay is with the global pandemic, Covid 19. One example is that The Washington Post wrote an article stating that “The spread of coronavirus boils down to a simple math lesson.” The article goes on to explain what exponential growth is and how that applies to Covid 19.  Another website, ourworldindata.org, has a graph of the daily new cases of Covid 19. This graph allows one to see the information for multiple countries, and starts on January 28th 2020 until Today, whatever day that you may be viewing it. Many other news sources also have graphs and information on the growth, and decay in some cases, of the pandemic situation. Teachers can use this information to easily make a connection from math class to the real world.

green line

One idea of teaching graphing exponential functions so that it is engaging is to use a project over the zombie apocalypse. The spread of a disease is a common and great example of exponential functions, so although this disease is pretend, the idea can be applied in the real world, like with a global pandemic. Three examples of projects are:

  • News Reporters
    • This project has the students analyzing data they received to best report to the people who are dealing with the outbreak. It allows students to learn how to read the graphs of exponential functions, understand the functions, integrate technology into the class by creating news reports, and practice an actual career.
  • Government Officials
    • This project has the students running a simulation of their city. They are to use the statistics of a city to see what the impact of a zombie outbreak would be. After finding the best and worst case scenario, they are to write a letter to the mayor of the city that explains the scenarios so that government can implement plans to keep the outbreak to a minimum. This allows the students a chance to practice analyzing exponential functions, modifying exponential functions, and informing others of the meaning of the functions and modifications.
  • Scientists
    • This project has the students predicting the outcome of a zombie outbreak, finding a cure, and determining at what point is the zombie population controlled. The students will get practice with the exponential functions, making changes to the functions, finding the point of “control”, as well as creating an action plan.

Each of these projects can be used separately or can be combined to create one major project to learn about exponential functions and their graphs. The goal is to get students excited about learning math instead of dreading it. Math is used daily, even if the students don’t realize it, so the understanding of real-life implications is very important for a teacher to bring into the classroom.

green line

Of the many websites, one key website for educators trying to make lessons engaging is YouTube. YouTube has songs, such as the Exponential Function Music Video, explanatory videos, such as from Kahn Academy, and allows students to create their own videos about the topics. Explanatory videos may help students get a specific idea they didn’t quite understand in class, music is very catchy allowing quick memorization of information, and creating videos shows that the students truly have an understanding of the material. By giving the students multiple types of representation of the material, allows all types of learners a chance to understand the material. Multiple representations is very important in keeping students engaged in the class and having them truly learn the material.

Resources:

https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Zombie-Apocalypse-Exponential-Function-Pandemics-21st-Century-Math-Project-767712?epik=dj0yJnU9UnRuNHVLLUxrV0JkTVJQc1ZFY0szb3JJNXRyenQwb2omcD0wJm49aEQ2UjFHVUcyYm5FakE1ZXhSXzhpQSZ0PUFBQUFBR0ZnTWRB

https://medium.com/innovative-instruction/math-mini-project-idea-the-zombie-apocalypse-5ddd0e6af389#.sph1x08k8

https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Exponential-Growth-and-Decay-Activity-Exponential-Functions-Zombie-Apocalypse-2609226

https://ourworldindata.org/coronavirus/country/united-states

https://www.washingtonpost.com/weather/2020/03/27/what-does-exponential-growth-mean-context-covid-19/

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=txMFwOLjZjQ

Engaging students: Finding the domain and range of a function

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 Sydney Araujo. Her topic, from Precalculus: finding the domain and range of a function.

green line

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

Expanding on finding the domain, this topic is frequently seen in calculus classes. Students need to understand the domain to understand and find limits of functions. Continuity directly expands on domain & range and how it works. We also see domain and range when students are exploring projectile motion. This makes since because when we think about projectile motion, we think about parabolas. With projectile motion there is a definite start, end, and peak height of the projectile. So we can use the domain to show how far the projectile travels and the range to show how high it travels. Looking even further ahead when students start to explore different functions and sets, they start to learn about a codomain and comparing it to the range which is a very valuable concept when you start to learn about injective, surjective, and bijective functions.

green line

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

Desmos is a great website for students to use when exploring domain and ranges. Desmos has premade inquiry-based lessons for students to explore different topics. Teachers also have the option of creating their own lessons and visuals for their students to interact with. Desmos can also animate functions by showing how they change with a sliding bar or actually animate and show it move. This would be a great tool to use for students to visually understand domain and ranges as well as how they are affected when asymptotes and holes appear. This would also be great for ELLs because instead of focusing on just math vocabulary, they can actually visually see how it connects to the graph and the equation. For example, https://www.desmos.com/calculator/vz4fjtugk9, this ready-made desmos activity actually shows how restricting the domain and range effects the graph and what parts of the graph are actually included with the given domain and range.

green line

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

Like I discussed earlier, domain and range is directly used in calculus. In the movie Stand and Deliver, they directly discuss the domain and range of functions. The movie Stand and Deliver is about a Los Angeles high school teacher, Jaime Escalante, who takes on a troublesome group of students in a not great neighborhood and teaches them math. He gets to the point where he wants to teach them calculus so they can take the advanced placement test. If they pass the advanced placement test then they get college credit which would motivate them to actually go to college and make a better life for themselves. However through great teaching and intensive studying, the students as a whole ace the exam but because of their backgrounds they are accused of cheating and must retake the exam. There is a few scenes, but one in particular where the students are finally understanding key concepts in calculus and Mr. Escalante is having them all say the domain of the function repeatedly.

Parabolic Properties from Pieces of String

I am pleased to announce that my latest paper, “Parabolic Properties from Pieces of String,” has now been published in Math Horizons. This was a really fun project for me. As I describe in the paper, I started wondering if it was possible to convince a student who hadn’t learned calculus yet that string art from two line segments traces a parabola. Not only was I able to come up with a way of demonstrating this without calculus, but I was also able to (1) prove that a quadratic polynomial satisfies the focus-directrix property of a parabola, which is the reverse of the usual logic when students learn conic sections, and (2) prove the reflective property of parabolas. I was really pleased with the final result, and am very happy that this was accepted for publication.

Due to copyright restrictions, I’m not permitted to freely distribute the final, published version of my article. However, I am able to share the following version of the article.

The above PDF file is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in College Mathematics Journal on February 24, 2022, available online: Full article: Parabolic Properties from Pieces of String (tandfonline.com)

Engaging students: The quadratic formula

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 Sydney Araujo. Her topic, from Algebra: the quadratic formula.

green line

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

The quadratic formula can be traced all the way back to the Ancient Egyptians. The ancient Egyptians knew how to calculate the area of different shapes but did not know how to calculate the length of the sides of a shape. Moving forward, it is speculated that the Babylonians developed the completing the square method to solve problems involving areas. The Babylonians used a more similar number system to the one we use today. Instead, they used hexagesimal which made addition and multiplication easier. We can also see a similar method used by the Chinese around the same time. Pythagoras and Euclid were some of the first to attempt to find a more general formula to solve quadratic equations, both using a geometric approach. They’re ideas differ slightly, Pythagoras observed that the value of a square root is not always an integer but he refused to allow for proportions that were not rational. Whereas Euclid proposed that irrational square roots are also possible. At the time, the ancient Greeks did not use the same number system that we use, so it was impossible to calculate square roots by hand. It wasn’t until the Indian mathematician, Brahmagupta, who came up with the solution to the quadratic formula. This is because Indian mathematics used the decimal system as well as zero which had a massive advantage over the Egyptians and Greeks. Brahmagupta was the one that recognized that there are two roots in the solution to the quadratic equation and described the quadratic formula.

green line

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

One of my fondest high school memories is from my junior year physics class. It was the famous Punkin’ Chunkin’ project. Students were put in groups and asked to build a trebuchet or catapult that could launch a pumpkin across a field. The only requirement was for the device to work, the distance was just fun extra credit. For this project we had to predict the pumpkins trajectory using different variables like the pumpkin’s weight, force, momentum, etc. However, by the time we were juniors, we had either taken Algebra 2 or were currently in it. So, our physics and algebra teacher were working together so that by the time this project came around we were working on quadratic equations in algebra. As the shape of the trajectory of a pumpkin was a parabola. Because of this experience, I can create an activity or even a similar project with the physics teacher. This way students see the different applications of quadratic equations and have a tangible real world math experience.

green line

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

As the quadratic formula is taught in Algebra 1, students have only seen linear equations prior to that point. Students recognize that when they are solving these equations, they are looking for one solution, no solution, or infinitely many solutions. The one solution being a singular ordered pair and then they are done. What students then must extend on when they reach quadratic equations, and the quadratic formula is that they’re now looking for two separate solutions. So, at this point they know how to solve for x and understand inverses which is important when it comes to quadratic equations. During the solving process of a quadratic equation, students may have to take the square root of both sides of the equation which will give you a plus or minus sign in front of the square root. Which makes the connection on why there are two solutions to a quadratic equation and the quadratic formula, because a parabola has two roots.

Works Cited:

Brahambhatt, Rupendra. “Quadratic Formula: What, Why, and How It Changed Mathematics.” Interesting Engineering, Interesting Engineering, 16 July 2021, interestingengineering.com/quadratic-formula-what-why-and-how-it-changed-mathematics.

A New Derivation of Snell’s Law without Calculus

Last week, I posted that my latest paper, “A New Derivation of Snell’s Law without Calculus,” has now been published in College Mathematics Journal. In that previous post, I didn’t provide the complete exposition because of my understanding of copyright restrictions at that time.

I’ve since received requests for copies of my paper, which prompted me to carefully read the publisher’s copyright restrictions. In a nutshell, I was wrong: I am allowed to widely distribute preprints that did not go through peer review and, with extra restrictions, the accepted manuscript after peer review.

So, anyway, here it is.

The above PDF file is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in College Mathematics Journal on January 28, 2022, available online: Full article: A New Derivation of Snell’s Law Without Calculus (tandfonline.com).