Engaging students: Finding the area of a square or rectangle

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 Kayla (Koenig) Lambert. Her topic, from Geometry: finding the area of a square or rectangle.

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B) Curriculum: How can this topic be used in student’s future courses in math or science?

 Finding the area of a square or rectangle can be applied in many other subjects throughout a student’s school career. This topic is learned around 4th or 5th grade, and around this time students will just be using the formulas to find the areas. In middle school, they might be finding the areas by way of more difficult problems, like word problems. The real fun for this subject, in my opinion, doesn’t start until high school. In high school you can use the area of squares and rectangles to find the solutions to many problems. In high school geometry, the Pythagorean Theorem is taught. The area of squares is related to this depending on how the teacher presents this to the student. The Pythagorean Theorem states that “in any right triangle, the area of the square whose side is the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the areas of the squares whose sides are the two legs of the right triangle” (Square-geometry).

In college, possibly high school calculus, students will learn to approximate the total area under a curve (or integral) using the Riemann Sum. To approximate the integral, you find the area of each rectangle, and all of the rectangles areas added together give you the approximated integral. The area of rectangles is also used in Statistics. When creating a histogram, you multiply the height (density) and width of the bars (rectangles).  Then adding the areas (relative frequencies) of all of the bars should be equal to one. Students will also need to use the area of squares and rectangles on college placement exams and standardized testing.


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

 In my opinion, anything and everything is a form of art, so the area of squares and rectangles can appear in an infinite amount of high culture. M.C. Escher has used squares and rectangles to create tessellations and “portrayed mathematical relationships among shapes, figures and space” (MC Escher). The area of a rectangle was used to Polykeitos the Elder who was a Greek sculptor. He used the area of a rectangle to create the perfect ratio for the human body. Painters also needed to figure out how to depict 3D scenes onto 2D canvas during the Renaissance (Mathematics and Art).

However, one of the more well-known applications of mathematics in art is the Golden Rectangle, which just so happens to involve the area of squares and rectangles. The Golden Rectangle is the area of the original rectangle to the area of the square, which is also the Golden Ratio. In other words, the Golden Rectangle is a rectangle wherein the ratio of its length to its width is the Golden Ratio (Golden Rectangle). Many ancient art and architecture have incorporated the Golden Rectangle into designs. The Golden Rectangle was used in the floor plans and design of the exterior of The Parthenon, which was a Greek temple dedicated to goddess Athena in 5th century BC (Mathematics and Art). Leonardo DaVinci also used the Golden Rectangle in his work. When painting the Mona Lisa, he used this to “draw attention to the face of the woman in the portrait” (Mathematics and Art). DaVinci also used the Golden Rectangle in the Last Supper using it to create a “perfect harmonic balance between placement of characters in the background” and also used it to arrange the characters around the table (Mathematics and Art).


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D) History: Who were some of the people who contributed to the development of this topic?

 Finding the area of squares and rectangles didn’t just come out of the blue; we can thank geometry and ancient mathematics for the development of this topic. One person in particular who contributed to the development of this topic was Euclid, or Euclid of Alexandria, who was a Greek mathematician and known as the “Father of Geometry” (Euclid). He was said to revolutionize geometry and his book The Elements is considered the most influential textbook of all time (History of Mathematics). The collection of his books, all thirteen of them, contain all traditional school geometry (Solomon).

However, Euler wasn’t the only one to contribute to this topic. Pythagoras and his students discovered most of what high school students learn in geometry today (History of Mathematics). In the classical period, Aryabhata wrote a treatise including the computation of areas. From the kingdom of Cao Wei, Liu Hui edited and commented on The Nine Chapters of Mathematics Art in 179 AD (History of Mathematics). There are so many people who contributed to this topic, and people are still contributing and developing to the area of squares and rectangles today!


Works Cited

“Euclid – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.” Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  20 Feb. 2012. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Euclid.

“Golden Rectangle.” Logicville : Puzzles and Brainteasers.  20 Feb. 2012. http://www.logicville.com/sel26.htm.

“M. C. Escher – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.” Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. 20 Feb. 2012. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M._C._Escher.

“Mathematics and art – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.” Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  20 Feb. 2012. http://www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mathematics_and_art.

Solomon, Robert. The Little Book Of Mathematical Principals, Theories and Things. New York: Metro Books, 2008.

“Square (geometry) – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.” Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. 20 Feb. 2012. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Square_(geometry).

“History of mathematics – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.” Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. 20 Feb. 2012. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_mathematics.