Friday, July 24, 2009

Updates, ODDS AND EVENS and some Geometry Packing Problems

Enjoying your summer hiatus or as busy as ever? I know that feeling!

1. MathNotations' Third Online Math Contest is tentatively scheduled for the week of Oct 12-16, a 5-day window to administer the 45-min contest and email the results. As with the previous contest, it will be FREE, up to two teams from a school may register and the focus for now will be on Geometry, Algebra II and Precalculus. Several other ideas are running through my head but I need the time to bring them to fruition. If any public, charter, prep, parochial or homeschool (including international school) is interested, send me an email ASAP to receive registration materials: "dmarain 'at' geeeemail dot com."

2. Article - Something to tell your students in September!
Here is the link. The 2nd paragraph says it all:

The top 15 highest-earning college degrees all have one thing in common -- math skills.
3. Silly Instruments for Math Teachers to Play
I always told my students that I'm predominantly left-brained -- analytical, organized, detailed, process-oriented, algebraic -- as opposed to most of my children and my wife who are creative, spatial, mechanical, who see the forest more than the trees. One of my sons is a musician and another is a dancer so we are not always on the same wavelength! So I mentioned to my SAT students that I wish I had a more creative side and perhaps be able to play an instrument, but, in fact, the only thing I can "play" is my iPod! One of my students in the front row immediately responded, "I know an instrument you can play, Mr. M -- the triangle! I congratulated her for the cleverness and told her that maybe I will learn how to play the "cymbals." (the class actually applauded that lame attempt at word play!). In fact, I've read that many famous mathematicians were also musicians, so let us know: Do you play an instrument or are passionate about music or do you have a silly instrument for a mathematician to play?

4. Circle Packing ProblemsLink
Even though I am dominantly left-brained, I still enjoy challenging spatial geometry problems. I find these questions have improved my creativity and my spatial sense and they often involve multi-faceted thinking. Here are a couple of famous 'packing' problems which are accessible to geometry students. More important than solving these is to give our students a sense of the importance of packing problems and the ongoing research in this area. There are still unsolved problems here!

Although you can easily research packing problems on MathWorld and Wikipedia, the diagrams below come from an exceptional website I discovered. The author, Peter Szabo (missing accents), provides diagrams for packing 2-100 circles with accompanying data (radii, density, etc).


The two congruent circles at the left are actually enclosed in a unit square which is not shown.The circles are tangent to each other and to the sides of the square. If these circles have the maximum radius possible, determine the radius.
Note: The indicated square (assume it is a square) is helpful in solving the problem. Trig is not necessary here.

Answer (Yes, I'm providing this since the objective is to discuss the method):
[The following is the diameter, not the radius, of each circle. Thanks to watchmath for correcting this error].


Again, imagine that the three congruent circles at the left are enclosed in a unit square and are tangent to each other and to the sides of the square. If the circles have the maximum radius possible, determine this radius.
Notes: The indicated square again may be helpful to solve this problem. Trig can be used but clever use of special right triangles is preferred.

[The diameter is given below, not the radius. Thanks to watchmatch for correcting this]

Friday, July 10, 2009

A Morning Warmup for Middle and High Schoolers - No Calculators Please!

How many integers from -1001 ro 1001 inclusive are not equal to the cube of an integer?

Hint: This could be a real 'Thriller'!

Click Read more for comments...

1) Do you think daily exposure to these kinds of problems as early as 7th grade will improve student thinking, careful attention to details (reading!) and ultimately performance on assessments? I think you can guess my answer!

2) I've published many similar questions on my blog but I couldn't resist this tribute to MJ.

3) I strongly believe we must occasionally remove the calculator to force their thinking. The stronger student recognizes immediately that 1000 and -1000 are perfect cubes and that one does not need to count the cubes but rather the integers which are being cubed (aka, their cube roots). The student with less number sense and weaker basics will feel lost at first but eventually their minds will develop as well if challenged regularly.

4) I added some complications to this fairly common 'counting' problem, similar to many SAT problems. This type of question is also typical of 8th grade math contests. Where do you think the common errors would occur assuming the student has some idea of how to approach this? Is understanding the language the primary barrier or not?

5) Let me know if you use this in September to set the tone for the year!

...Read more

Friday, July 3, 2009

Taking Middle Schoolers Beyond Procedures To The Next Level...

Typical Classroom Scenario?
We're introducing the idea of least common multiple of two positive integers and after defining the terminology and illustrating several examples most students are catching on to some procedural method of which there are many:
Listing common multiples of each
Prime Factorization
The "upside down division method" you saw at a conference...

Yes, we are all very good at demonstrating step by step procedures and having students practice repetitively until they catch on and can reproduce this with some speed and accuracy. We feel this is a worthwhile skill (they'll need it for common denominators, clearing denominators in rational equations, useful for solving certain types of word problems, etc), it's in the curriculum and the standards, it will be tested in various places and the lesson plays out. Some students pick up the method(s) quickly, while others struggle, particularly those who haven't learned their basic facts.

BUT how can we raise the bar to stretch their minds? Can the above scenario be restructured to enable students to gain a deeper understanding of the concepts of lcm and gcf? Perhaps we can start the class off with a more open-ended type of question and ask them to work in small groups to solve it. Perhaps, we can ask a different type of question after teaching some standard procedure. A nonroutine, higher-order question that is not in the text...

What resources are available for more open-ended or nonroutine questions to enable our students to delve beneath the surface and actually think about what they are doing? Well, I can't answer all these questions but here are a few thoughts...

1) Write two examples for which the lcm of two numbers is their product.
2) Write two examples for which the lcm of two numbers is not their product. The numbers in each example must be distinct (different).

3) The lcm of 12 and N is 24.

a) What is the greatest possible integer value of N?
b) What is the least positive integer value of N?

These are just a few samples to start you off. You could probably come up with better ones or you've read some excellent ideas in some publication. Please share...

To see a more challenging version of the examples above, click Read more...

You might want to give the following for homework or an extra practice problem in class. Do you think students will require a calculator? How about telling them they cannot use it!

The lcm of 100 and N is 500. What is the least positive integer value of N?

...Read more