## Trying to find math inside everything else

### What does “mean” mean?

In both geometry and calculus this year the opportunity has come up to ask, “What is a mean average?” Students can usually pull together an answer that gives me a procedure (“add them up and then divide by how many there are”) but not one that really explains what that procedure shows.

With my tutoring students, I usually get to show them the method that my mother taught me when I was young, that I’ve never seen elsewhere. The procedure works by answering the question from the previous paragraph: a mean average is the value you’d have if the quantity were distributed evenly. (If we have 20 total cookies, how many to give each person so they are the same. If we have a certain budget for salaries, how to adjust them so everyone gets paid the same.)

So the method my mother taught me works that way – not adding and dividing, but redistribution. Let’s see an example.

Let’s take these five numbers I got from rolling a d100 five times. I want to average them. First, I’m gonna take a guess of around what the average is. The 10 is gonna pull it down a lot, so let’s guess the average is 70. So first I’ll redistribute the numbers from the ones larger than 70 to the ones lower than 70, like so.

Okay, now 4 of the numbers are the same, but the last one is too low. At least now when I redistribute I can take the same amount from all of them. Let’s do 5.

Pretty close! We have that 1 spare, so we’ll break that into a fraction, giving us a mean average of 65.2.

This idea of redistribution helps clarify the average value of a function or the average rate of change in calculus. Average value of a function is the y-value we’d have if we had the same total value (area) but redistributed so that all the y-values are the same (a constant).

The average rate of change of a function is the rate we would be going if we were going at a constant rate (aka draw a straight line, the secant).

You may be thinking that’s great, but often adding and dividing will be a cleaner and faster algorithm, and you’re not wrong. However, this method really shines when you have a question like one of these.

So let’s think. We have four tests, but we don’t know the fourth one.

We do know that we want an 89 average, which means we want all of the tests to be equal to 89. So let’s do that.

So we need a total of 10 extra points to get to that 89 average. Those points can’t come from nowhere – they have to come from the 4th test.

Therefore, that last test must be 99. Perfectly balanced, as all things should be.

### Integral Limit Game

This year when I was in my intro to integrals unit, I tried to look back at this blog for the second integral game I know I played (besides this one), and saw I hadn’t blogged about it. I had tweeted about it, but now I’m thinking, you know, I should, uh, archive things that I only tweeted about in a more permanent place, in guess Twitter doesn’t last much longer.

Anyway, this game is based on The Product Game, with the same structure of turns – players take turns moving a token on the bottom rows, that then determine which square in the top section, where the first player to get 4 in a row is the winner. (I usually have students play in teams of 2, but I’ll keep saying “player” go forward.)

The idea here is that the bottom rows represent the limits of a definite integral. One player plays as the Upper Limit, and the other as the Lower Limit. Once both limits are placed, the player who most recently went calculates the value of the definite integral on the accompanying graph, then covers the square in the top section with the area. (Remember that if the lower limit is greater than the upper limit, the sign is switched!)

Making the function that would give a variety of answers was a fun challenge. After coming up with a graph I thought looked good, I wound up making an excel sheet to calculate all the possible definite integrals to see how balanced it was, and adjusted.

I’ll include that excel sheet as well, as it’s useful for checking answers (as a teacher), although of course each team should be checking each other. After doing a bunch of different integrals on the same function, students often realize they can use their previous work to help them find new answers, reinforcing the cumulative nature of integrals.

## Files

### The Integral Struggle

I had an extra day to fill for one of my sections of calculus, thanks to the PSAT, so I set about thinking up a game I could play. I gotta tell you, as much as there is a paucity of good content-related math games out there, it’s extra so as you move up the years in high school. I can still find a good amount of algebra and geometry games online, but Algebra 2? Precalc? Calc? Fuhgeddaboutit. Well, I’m teaching both Pre-Calc and Calc this year, so I guess I’ll just have to make them myself. (I brainstormed two more during said PSAT, so those might happen soon enough.)

We just covered function transformations and how they affected integrals, so this game hits on that topic. (Yeah, we’re doing integrals first.) Here’s how it works: there are 3 functions/graphs, each of which has a total area of 0 on the interval [–10,10]. One team is Team Positive, and the other is Team Negative. Teams take turns placing numbers from –9 to 9 that transform the function and therefore transform the area. Most importantly, they also place the numbers in the limits of integration, so they can just look at a specific part of the graph.

With three functions, it becomes a matter of best of 3 – if the final integral evaluates to a positive number, Team Positive gets a point, and vice versa. If it’s a tie at the end of the game, because one or more of the integrals evaluated to 0 or were undefined, then redo those specific integrals. (I discussed with the students whether it would be better to have it be the total value of all 3 integrals instead of best of 3, but I think that makes the vertical stretch too powerful.)

That’s it! Let me know what you think. Materials below.

### Integration First

Last year I went to a PD at Math for America that was about approaching calculus from a geometric point of view. The presenter mentioned during it that, historically, the idea of the integral was developed first, followed by the derivative, and then the limit. Yet in many calculus courses, they are taught in the exact reverse order. I decided that, should I teach calc again in the fall, I’d do integration first.

Well, school is rapidly approaching, and so I’ve been thinking about it again. I did so searching and found this intense forum discussion (oh, old Internet), which pointed me in the direction of the Apostol’s Calculus 1 textbook, which starts off with integrals. The post also had a bunch of arguments about why I shouldn’t do it. One of the notable arguments was that in order to fully teach integration (including u-substitution and integration by parts), you need differentiation. But I actually view that as a benefit, not a downside, because it forces a more spiraled approach. I can start with integrals, then go to differentiation, and then tie them together.

In general, I feel like area is a much more approachable subject than slope. My years of teaching Algebra I to 9th graders certainly seems to support that claim. But I also think it’s easier to understand the linearity of integration than the linearity of slope. “If you add together two functions, the area under the new function is the sum of the areas under the old functions” seems much more evidently true than “If you add together two functions, the slope of the tangent line for each point of the new function is equal to the sum of the slopes of the tangent lines at the same points on the old functions.”

Of course, Jonathan has already worked to restructure his calculus course, and I plan on taking a number of cues from his more spiraled sequence – but still with integrals first.

Here’s what I’m thinking:

Q1 (Intro to Integrals) – (Sam’s Abstract Functions, Area Under Stepwise Functions/Definite Integrals, Properties of Integrals, Riemann Sums, Area Under a Curve, Power Rule for Integrals, Trig Integrals, some applications)

Q2 (Intro to Derivatives) – (Average vs Instantaneous RoC, Tangent/Secant Lines, Power Rule, Trig Derivatives, some applications)

Q3 (Fundamental Theorem) – FTC, Chain Rule/u-substitution, Product Rule/Quotient Rule/Integration by Parts, Curve Sketching/Shape of a Graph)

Q4 (More Applications) – Related Rates, Optimization, Volume, etc

How does that sound?