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.

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.

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.”

How 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/