# 350. Quadratic factor puzzle

Back in posts 95. Quadratic puzzles and 322. Quadratic puzzles I’ve looked at how to approach factorising and solving quadratic equations/expressions in a ‘gentle’ way.

Time to take off the kid gloves!

I have an awesome class of 13 year olds who are starting out on quadratic manipulation. They are great, but there are a significant number who rush their work and skip steps of working out because they ‘know what they are doing’. Really? Let’s see …

I gave the class twelve quadratic expressions and asked them to factorise them, then to spot any common themes. What I didn’t tell them was that all of the factors used were combinations of x, 2x, +/-1 and +/-5. If they were sloppy with their attention to detail, their solution would look like the solution to a different expression. Essentially a difficult easy task.

It soon sorted out those who had at true understanding of factorising a quadratic from those who’d lucked their way through easier questions.

I’ve shared the presentation and pdf version below. I’ve added in two slides where you can cut out the expressions to use as more of a card sort. You’ll notice that there are no 4x^2 expressions – I was focussing on solutions with only one x co-efficient greater than one. Although I used this as a starter, you may wish to use it as a longer activity, depending on your class.

# 349. Circumcircle Investigation

The A-level textbook we use has a nice picture of the circumcircle of a triangle and a definition, plus a brief description of how to work through them. For those who are pondering what a circumcircle is, click on the image or link below

Image credit: WolframMathWorld

I’ll just stick to basic vocabulary in this post, rather than the formal circumcentre and circumradius.

Back to the book – not exactly inspiring or memorable stuff!

I looked at the class and off the cuff changed the lesson plan.

Equipment

• Plain paper
• Pencil
• Ruler
• Compasses
• Calculator

Step 1

Draw a decent size triangle on the paper. Label the corners A,B,C.

Step 2

Using geometrical constructions, find the centre of the circle that your triangle fits in. Check by actually drawing the circle

Step 3

Discuss what techniques gave the best results – hopefully you’ll have perpendicular bisectors. There is a nice comparison between bisecting the angles (which some students will do) and bisecting the sides. The angle bisectors always cross inside the triangle, the side bisectors don’t.

Step 4

Randomly generate co-ordinates for A, B, & C. Get the students to pick them and then they can’t moan if the calculations are awful.

Step 5

Discuss how you are going to find the centre and radius of the circumcircle. We decided on:

• Only use two sides
• Find the midpoints
• Find the gradients and hence perpendicular gradients
• Generate the equations of the lines through the midpoint
• Find where they intersect
• Use the point and one corner to find the radius

Step 6

Review their methods, looking for premature rounding in questions. I’m still instilling an appreciation for the accuracy of fractions and surds, over reaching for the calculator.

Step 7

This is how my solution looked – I numbered the picture and the steps so students could follow the logic. I was answering on one page projected on screen.

# 348. A-Level colouring (Updated)

Those of you who follow this blog will know I have a thing for explaining with colours. This isn’t just a gimmick for younger students, it also works for 16-18 year olds.

In the picture below we were looking at proving a statement involving reciprocal trigonometric functions and fractions. A common source of misconception with this kind of question is that students split the question into working with the numerator and denominator separately, then make mistakes when they put them back together. They can’t see the big picture.

Image credit: Mathssandpit

When I discussed this on the board I used separate colours for the expressions in the numerator and denominator. The class could follow the logic so easily. It’s probably my most successful introduction to this topic. I saw that some students used highlighter on their notes after I’d gone through it, so they could track the solution.

The second type of question we looked at was solving a trigonometric equation. The straight forward expansion was all in one colour, but the roots of the quadratic were highlighted in different colours. The reasoning behind this was that students often solve half the quadratic and neglect the other impossible solution. Our exam board likes to see students consider the other solution and formally reject it. It makes the solution complete. By using a colour, the impossible solution stands out and reminds students to provide a whole solution.

Image credit: Mathssandpit

So when you are planning for misconceptions at A-level, remember that coloured pens aren’t just for younger students.

Update: 22nd October

The brilliant Mr B has shared how he uses colour to identify the forces in perpendicular directions in Mechanics.

# 345. Practical percentage skills

It’s perfectly obvious that fluency in the use of multiplication tables directly impacts students ability to divide. This grows into confidence with algebra and reverse operations. Students are able to see the links between the concepts. Our understanding of the importance of such skills is part of the success of programmes such as TTRockstars and Numeracy Ninjas.

Why is it then that so many textbooks, websites and resource banks keep the manipulation of percentages as separate skills sets? Percentage increase / Percentage change / Reverse percentages. We know that when concepts overlap, fluency increases when these links are pursued. So that’s what I set out to do.

I have a bright Year 8 class and started working on percentages with them. It didn’t take much to have them confident using equivalent decimal multipliers to find percentages of amounts. Using a multiplier for increase/decrease was a walk in the park. Then finding percentage change came up. Over the years I’ve seen a lot of students get very confused with half remembered methods:

“Which do I take away?”

“What number do I divide by?”

“Is this calculation the right way around?”

I tend to teach new value divided by old value and interpret the answer. It got me thinking – why am I teaching them this? They can increase by a percentage using a multiplier, why can’t they rearrange their working to find the actual percentage? Same goes for reversing a percentage.

After a good discussion, I used this worksheet to recap and develop their skills:

Percentages Linking concepts questions

Warning: “Original Amount” section, question (d) is a tricky one.

As with all new approaches, it’s always good to see if it worked. I set the following task from Don Steward’s website:

MEDIAN percent problems

I have GCSE students who wouldn’t know where to start on those questions, yet my Year 8 with their ‘have a go’ attitude were absolutely awesome. I’m definitely using this method again!

# 340. SUVAT dilemma

If you’ve been a regular reader of this blog you may remember a post in 2014 advocating the use Duck Tape to help with practical investigations. The post was: http://mathssandpit.co.uk/blog/?p=1585

I’ve recently reused the mechanics activity with a new class of Year 12 students. They had only just started mechanics and were familiar with models and suvat equations. We timed four different objects being dropped, under gravity, down a stairwell. The items had a variety of masses: a paper helicopter, a light plastic ball, a small sponge and a dense juggling ball. We meticulously timed each drop and double checked the height.

I asked the students to work out the velocity of each object on impact with the ground. It was akin to lighting the blue touch paper and standing back …

They are a competitive bunch and raced ahead to use the correct suvat equations to calculate the velocity. Then the fireworks started!

Part of the class insisted that the juggling ball must have the highest velocity. Part of the class insisted the velocities were the same for all of the objects. The rest were catching up and wondering what all the discussion was about. I innocently gathered their ideas on the board and asked them what was going on. Those who had used initial velocity, time & distance to find the final velocity had differing answers for each object. Those who had used initial velocity, distance and acceleration had a consistent answer.

Suddenly a hand shot up and said “Because we model objects as particles, their mass doesn’t matter so we can’t use the times”. This was followed by assorted groans from the class – especially those who’d used the individual times of the objects.

The variation of the original activity was to emphasise prior learning on setting up mathematical models for solving mechanics problems. Objective achieved!

(Obviously later in the course we’ll look at the impact of mass on mechanical models, but this was early days)

# 338. Grappling with graphs

Have you noticed that textbooks are okay with graphs, until you need some interpreting graphs questions?

Image Credit: trustedreviews

I thought that mobile phone tariffs would be a good starting point for comparing fixed charges and rates. Using the iPhone X as a starting point, I’ve put together a discussion starter and couple of additional questions. All the tariffs are actual offers available at the time of writing.

You could start by looking at the graph and asking students what they notice, you could give them the tariffs and ask them to generate graphs or you could give them the data and ask them to plot the graph and derive the tariffs. It’s up to you!

The graph is deliberately vague so that students can discuss trends without getting obsessed by the detail of the numbers. Everything is downloadable below.

iphone X tariff graph

Iphone X mini investigation

Interpreting graphs

# 333. Resource of the week

Just a quick resource for you today and apologies if you are already using this!

Plickers

Not some new ‘youth slang’, but an amazing online tool. Students have an individual card with each side labelled A, B, C or D. You ask a multiple choice or True/False question, they hold up their card with their answer at the top, you scan the class set of cards.

Image credit: Plickers.com

It really is that simple and here is what to do to get started:

1. Create a free account at www.plickers.com
2. Download the app to a portable device with a camera (phone, tablet etc)
3. Print out the cards
4. Allocate the cards to your class on the website
5. Stick the cards in your students’ books
6. Set a question
7. Scan the cards

I have a tablet device that I use for school purposes as I keep my phone for personal use. The only problem I had was my android tablet doesn’t have a light source or as high quality camera as my phone, but we sorted that by having students move to a brighter part of the room for scanning. Instant feedback with no handheld devices!

Finally I have to say a huge thank you to Mr L, our trainee teacher, for introducing this to the Department.