# Engaging students: Box and whisker plots

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 submission comes from my former student Chris Brown. His topic: how to engage students when teaching box and whisker plots.

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

My all-time favorite TV show as a child was Pokémon. This show is still a staple amongst the young and even adult generation of today. The activity that I have created, was designed to take place after a formal lesson over how to create Box and Whisker plots. For this activity, students will be given a labeled bar graph of the Pokémon Type Distribution for generations 1 through 6 of Pokémon, which I have listed an online data source below. The students will be tasked with identifying the top 7 Pokémon types and creating a Box and Whiskers plots for each of those types. They will then go through and analyze the consistency of the creation of Pokémon for that specific type and then compare contrast this same box plot to any other box plot of their choice. The students will then make predications for the number of Pokémon for each of the top 7 Pokémon types, for generation 7 and base their reasoning in the box plots they created. Then the student will finally research the type distributions for the 7th generation of Pokémon, and discuss how the actual number compares to their prediction.

This is the online source for the type distributions for generations 1 – 6:

https://plot.ly/~powersurge360/6.embed

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

From my experience, Box Plots are first taught in the early middle school years, in 6th or 7th grade. When constructing box plots by hand, in its essence, box plots require knowledge of how to order sets of numbers from least to greatest; an understanding and ability to find the maximum, minimum, median, and mean of a data set; and lastly, critical thinking and analytic skills developed from general course content. Box plots allow students to combine each of these skills to effectively analyze data sets with ease and compare different data sets with precision and accuracy. If any or all of these skills are not quite up to par, students will have an opportunity to develop them through box plots as they spend time creating them. For all students no matter their level, they will still gain better insight on how to properly analyze data and grow as analytical thinkers as they take the represented data and turn it into meaningful interpretations.

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

In a classroom, I personally believe that Desmos is a wonderful online tool that can aid students in the understanding of how box and whisker plots function, and also a great place to check their work. Desmos, which is linked below, gives students the ability to list as many data points as they need to, and concurrently creates a box plot as they do so. In this way, students are able to see how singular data points can skew the data in significant and insignificant amounts. What I also love about Desmos is that, the list of data points does not have to be in any kind of order, so students do not have to worry about that tedious step! Desmos also lists the 5-point summary in two different places, on the box plot itself, and also on a drop-down menu, which is super convenient. Lastly, I love how Desmos also displays the mean of the data set as well, students can calculate the skew of the data, and definitively determine how it is skewed. This is a super visual, and interactive tool that will allow the student to manipulate box plots so seamlessly they will not be focused on the tediousness of the setup and solely on the concept.

The link to the Desmos setup is here: https://www.desmos.com/calculator/h9icuu58wn

# Texas slide rule competitions

I got a kick out of reading this retrospective of Texas high school slide rule competitions… including a 1959 picture of Janis Joplin on her high school slide rule team and a 1980 Dallas Morning News article eulogizing the competition.

https://mikeyancey.com/uil-slide-rule-resources/

# 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.

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.

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.

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:

# My Favorite One-Liners: Part 9

In this series, I’m compiling some of the quips and one-liners that I’ll use with my students to hopefully make my lessons more memorable for them.

Today, I’d like to discuss a common mistake students make in trigonometry… as well as the one-liner that I use to (hopefully) help students not make this mistake in the future.

Question. Find all solutions (rounded to the nearest tenth of a degree) of $\sin x = 0.8$.

Erroneous Solution. Plugging into a calculator, we find that $x \approx 53.1^o$.

The student correctly found the unique angle $x$ between $-90^o$ and $90^o$ so that $\sin x = 0.8$. That’s the definition of the arcsine function. However, there are plenty of other angles whose sine is equal to $0.7$. This can happen in two ways.

First, if $\sin x > 0$, then the angle $x$ could be in either the first quadrant or the second quadrant (thanks to the mnemonic All Scholars Take Calculus). So $x$ could be (accurate to one decimal place) equal to either $53.1^o$ or else $180^o - 53.1^o = 126.9^o$. Students can visualize this by drawing a picture, talking through each step of its construction (first black, then red, then brown, then green, then blue).

However, most students don’t really believe that there’s a second angle that works until they see the results of a calculator.

Second, any angle that’s coterminal with either of these two angles also works. This can be drawn into the above picture and, as before, confirmed with a calculator.

So the complete answer (again, approximate to one decimal place) should be $53.1^{\circ} + 360n^o$ and $126.9 + 360n^{\circ}$, where $n$ is an integer. Since integers can be negative, there’s no need to write $\pm$ in the solution.

Therefore, the student who simply answers $53.1^o$ has missed infinitely many solutions. The student has missed every nontrivial angle that’s coterminal with $53.1^o$ and also every angle in the second quadrant that also works.

Here’s my one-liner — which never fails to get an embarrassed laugh — that hopefully helps students remember that merely using the arcsine function is not enough for solving problems such as this one.

You’ve forgotten infinitely many solutions. So how many points should I take off?

For further reading, here’s my series on inverse functions.

# Merry Christmas!

Hosanna in Excel sheets.

And Merry Christmas.

# Slide rule

To give my students a little appreciation for their elders, I’ll demonstrate for them how to use a slide rule. Though I have my own slide rule which I can pass around the classroom, demonstrating how to use a slide rule is a little cumbersome since they don’t have their own slide rules to use.

I recently found an applet to make this demonstration a whole lot easier: https://code.google.com/p/java-slide-rule/

# Thoughts on Infinity (Part 3f)

In recent posts, we’ve seen the curious phenomenon that the commutative and associative laws do not apply to a conditionally convergent series or infinite product: while

$\displaystyle 1 - \frac{1}{2} + \frac{1}{3} - \frac{1}{4} + \frac{1}{5} - ... = \ln 2$,

a rearranged series can be something completely different:

$\displaystyle 1 + \frac{1}{3} - \frac{1}{2} + \frac{1}{5} + \frac{1}{7} - \frac{1}{4} + \frac{1}{9} + \frac{1}{11} - \frac{1}{6} ... = \displaystyle \frac{3}{2} \ln 2$.

This very counterintuitive result can be confirmed using commonly used technology — in particular, Microsoft Excel. In the spreadsheet below, I typed:

• =IF(MOD(ROW(A1),3)=0,ROW(A1)*2/3,IF(MOD(ROW(A1),3)=1,4*(ROW(A1)-1)/3+1,4*(ROW(A1)-2)/3+3)) in cell A1
• =POWER(-1,A1-1)/A1 in cell B1
• =B1 in cell C1
• I copied cell A1 into cell A2
• =POWER(-1,A2-1)/A2 in cell B2
• =C1+B2 in cell C2

The unusual command for cell A1 was necessary to get the correct rearrangement of the series.

Then I used the FILL DOWN command to fill in the remaining rows. Using these commands cell C9 shows the sum of all the entries in cells B1 through B9, so that

$\displaystyle 1 + \frac{1}{3} - \frac{1}{2} + \frac{1}{5} + \frac{1}{7} - \frac{1}{4} + \frac{1}{9} + \frac{1}{11} - \frac{1}{6} \approx 0.961544012$

Filling down to additional rows demonstrates that the sum converges to $\displaystyle \frac{3}{2}\ln 2$ and not to $\ln 2$. Here’s the sum up to 10,000 terms… the entry in column E is the first few digits in the decimal expansion of $\displaystyle \frac{3}{2} \ln 2$.

Clearly the partial sums are not approaching $\ln 2 \approx 0.693$, and there’s good visual evidence to think that the answer is $\displaystyle \frac{3}{2} \ln 2$ instead. (Incidentally, the 10,000th partial sum is very close to the limiting value because $10,000$ is one more than a multiple of 3.)

# Thoughts on Infinity (Part 3d)

In recent posts, we’ve seen the curious phenomenon that the commutative and associative laws do not apply to a conditionally convergent series or infinite product. Here’s another classic example of this fact that’s attributed to Cauchy.

In yesterday’s post, I showed that

$\displaystyle 1 - \frac{1}{2} + \frac{1}{3} - \frac{1}{4} + \frac{1}{5} - ... = \ln 2$.

This can be (sort of) confirmed using commonly used technology — in particular, Microsoft Excel. In the spreadsheet below, I typed:

• 1 in cell A1
• =POWER(-1,A1-1)/A1 in cell B1
• =B1 in cell C1
• =A1+1 in cell A2
• =POWER(-1,A2-1)/A2 in cell B2
• =C1+B2 in cell C2
• Then I used the FILL DOWN command to fill in the remaining rows. Using these commands cell C10 shows the sum of all the entries in cells B1 through B10, so that

$1 - \displaystyle \frac{1}{2} + \frac{1}{3} - \frac{1}{4} + \frac{1}{5} - \frac{1}{6} + \frac{1}{7} - \frac{1}{8} + \frac{1}{9} - \frac{1}{10} \approx 0.645634921$

Filling down to additional rows demonstrates that the sum converges to $\ln 2$, albeit very slowly (as is typical for conditionally convergent series). Here’s the sum up to 200 terms… the entry in column E is the first few digits in the decimal expansion of $\ln 2$.

Here’s the result after 2000 terms:

20,000 terms:

And finally, 200,000 terms. (It takes a few minutes for Microsoft Excel to scroll this far.)

We see that, as expected, the partial sums are converging to $\ln 2$, as expected. Unfortunately, the convergence is extremely slow — we have to compute 10 times as many terms in order to get one extra digit in the final answer.

# Deciphering recommendation engines

From the video’s description: “Data scientist Cathy O’Neil provides a glimpse of the methods that Netflix, Google, and others apply to recommend or offer to users selections based on their apparent interests.” This is a non-intuitive but real application of linear algebra.

# Preparation for Industrial Careers in the Mathematical Sciences: Finding the Safest Place to Store Nuclear Waste

The Mathematical Association of America recently published a number of promotional videos showing various mathematics can be used in “the real world.” Here’s the first pair of videos describing the process of mathematical modeling. From the YouTube descriptions:

Dr. Genetha Gray talks about her path and about a research problem that she worked on at Sandia National Laboratories. Using quite limited geological data, they had to create a groundwater flow computational model, with parameters to be determined, so that they could study the feasibility and safety of prospective subsurface nuclear waste storage sites.

Prof. Gwen Spencer of Smith College introduces the mathematics behind optimization, calibration, and the quantification of uncertainty in models and in the results that they give.