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.

green line

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.

 

 

green line

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.

 

 

green line

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: 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 Derek Skipworth. His topic, from Precalculus: vectors in two dimensions.

green line

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

While it may be a cop-out to use this example since I am developing it for an actual lesson plan, I will go ahead and use it because I feel it is a strong activity.  I am developing a series of 21 problems that will be the base for forming the students’ treasure maps.  There will be three jobs: Cartographer, the map maker; Lie Detector, who checks for orthogonality; and Calculator, who will solve the vector problems.  The 21 problems will be broken down into 7 per page, and the students will switch jobs after each page.  The rule is that any vectors that are orthogonal with each other cannot be included in your map.  There are three of these on each page, so each group should end up with a total of 12 vectors on their map.  Once orthogonality is checked by the Lie Detector, the Calculator will do the expressed operations on the vector pairs to come up with the vector to be drawn.  The map maker will then draw the vector, as well as the object the vector leads to.  Each group will have their directions in different orders so that every group has their own unique map.  The idea is for the students to realize (if they checked orthogonality correctly) that, even though every map is different, the sum of all vectors still leads you to the same place, regardless of order.

 

green line

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

Vectors build upon many topics from previous courses.  For one, it teaches the student to use the Cartesian plane in a new way than they have done previously.  Vectors can be expressed in terms of force in the x and y directions, which result in a representation very similar to an ordered pair.  It gets expanded to teach the students that unlike an ordered pair, which represents a distinct point in space, a vector pair represents a specific force that can originate from any point on the Cartesian Plane.

Vectors also build on previous knowledge of triangles.  When written as \langle x,y \rangle, we can find the magnitude of the vector by using the Pythagorean Theorem.  It gives them a working example of when this theorem can be applied on objects other than triangles.  It also reinforces the students trigonometry skills since the direction of a vector can also be expressed using magnitude and angles.

 

green line

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

The PhET website has one of the best tools I’ve seen for basic knowledge of two dimensional vector addition, located at http://phet.colorado.edu/en/simulation/vector-addition.  This is a java-based program that lets you add multiple vectors (shown in red) in any direction or magnitude you want to get the sum of the vectors (shown in green).  Also shown at the top of the program is the magnitude and angle of the vector, as well as its corresponding x and y values.

What’s great about this program is it puts the power in the student’s hands.  They are not forced to draw multiple sets of vectors themselves.  Instead, they can quickly throw them in the program and manipulate them without any hassle.  This effectively allows the teacher to cover the topic quicker and more effectively due to the decreased amount of time needed to combine all vectors on a graph.