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Playing with Cusineire

May 28, 2020 5 comments

Last year after a maths conference session from Pete Mattock (@MrMattock) and a number of other things happening I decided that I wanted to work on developing my own use of manipulatives in my teaching. I bought a box of rods for home and have spent some time playing with them along side my daughter. Last year I wrote this post on our early work with them.Since them we have messed around with them a lot, and have had some nice chats around them. Today I watched a nice twitter live session with Atul Rana (@AtulRana) and Simon Gregg (@Simon_Gregg) about their use (you can watch it back here) and I’ve also been reading a lot about their rods during lockdown. Here I want to share some of the things we’ve done with them over the last few days.Yesterday we were playing with the rods and she asked what she should do. I told her to make a pattern. One of the first things she came up was a staircase:I asked her if it was a staircase why it went up and down and up and not just up and she said, “that would make more sense”, and changed it.We discussed the order and I asked if we could do anything to it to make other shapes and she came up with this:Initially she just put another inverted staircase on top of the one she had done first, then she put the additional rods to make a frame. Before she had put the frame we discussed what each row was showing, and she said it was number bonds to ten. After we had discussed that I asked her what shape she had made, she said it was a ‘rectangle or a square’. I asked her which it was and she said she thought it was a square. I asked if there was a way we could know for sure, and she said there was, we needed to check if the side lengths were the same so she did that and decided ot was intact a rectangle.Today we played with them again, she made a face:Then she made this:Initially she said it was a “roof” but later decided it was actually a basket. We talked about the shape and I asked her if she knew what it was called. She said she didn’t, that she knew it had 4 sides but wasn’t a rectangle or a square, so I told her it was a trapezium and we discussed the properties of them.She then decided to do number bonds to 10:Then we looked at ways we could make 4:This was an activity that I’d seen Atul and Simon discuss and led to some quite interesting discussion. She decided to group the “ways” into distinct ones and repeat ones. I told her that the number of distinct ways to do this for a number was called the partition number. We also discussed the repeats and how she knew they were the same. She was good at describing the commutativity of addition but hadn’t heard the word commutative before. She then wanted to try with some other numbers:For 6 she decided not to do repeats, and initially only found these:Then added another:I find partition numbers really interesting, but after a brief discussion we moved on as I was about to go off on a tangent on Ramanujan’s Congruences and Modulo arithmetic which would have been over hear head just now.We picked a number to play with and she tried to find as many ways as possible to make it using inky red white and green rods:This led to some interesting discussions as to why we could do it all white or all green but not all red.I asked her what numbers we could make with all red and she said all the even numbers, so we looked at this and discussed why that is.We then looked at what other colours we could make those numbers with:She said all numbers could be made with just white so didn’t bother putting those on we talked about why the colours paired up, ie there are 5 reds for a ten as a red is 2 that means we need 2 yellows as yellows are 5. We discussed that this means multiplication was also commutative. I asked what numbers would be made by each rod and she said those in the timestable. We discussed this and the terms multiple and factor.She asked if there was always just 4 factors so I asked her to investigate 12:Obviously there is no rod for 12 so we made one out of an orange and a red and imagined it was a single rod. She was surprised how many factors it had.At this point we had been working a while and she was tired so we left it there. I can see that the discussion could easily have moved onto primes and their lack of factors, and squares and how they have an odd number of factors while all other number have an even number. And this would link back to our earlier discussions around commutativity.This was an enjoyable way to spend time this evening and I hope we can do some more exploring with the rods in the days and weeks to come. If you have any great activities to do with the rods, or have written/read anything on this, then please let me know.This has been the 4th post in what is a bit of a series around manipulatives, the others are:Manipulatives, the start of a journeyFun With CusineireMeaning making with manipulatives

Fun with Cusineire

July 18, 2019 5 comments

This is the second post in what I hope will become a long series about using manipulatives in lessons.

Last week I posted about how I was going to try and I corporate more manipulatives into my lessons, and that I’ve bought a set of Cusineire Rods for home to play with with my daughter. I’ve not manages to really do much in lessons since, the week has been disrupted by a couple of drop down days and sports day, and the lessons I’ve taught have mainly been around construction and loci, and symmetry and reflection.

I did, however, manage to have a play with some at home. My daughter was interested by the rods, and wanted me to show her some of their uses. First we looked at how they can be used to find number bonds to all different numbers, then we used this to look at adding and subtracting.

She uses Dienes base 10 blocks at school for similar so she started with just the 10 rods and the 1 cubes and showed be how she would use these at school. I then talked to her about how we could use our knowledge of number bonds to do the same thing but using all the rods. This was a nice discussion and allowed be to see some potential benefits to building number fluency with rods over dienes blocks.

She then showed me how she can use manipulatives to divide and to work out a fraction of something. The only fractions she really knew about were 1/2, 1/3, 1/3, 2/4 and 3/4. This led us to a discussion about the nature of fractions and their link to division. She knew that finding a quarter was the same as dividing by 4 and finding a half was dividing by 2 so I asked about finding other unit fractions showing her the notation and she made the link easily.

We then used rods to look at two of the fractions she knew, 1/2 and 2/4. She was surprised to see they always came out the same, and we used rods to investigate this and discussed the nature of equivalent fractions.

She then asked whether you could use the rods to multiply, I thought about it and came up with using them to create arrays:

This was 2 fives. Initially she was counting all the white blocks to get an answer, but after a bit when one of the numbers was one she could count in she started counting in those.

We looked at some where we were multiplying the same number together and I asked her if she noticed anything similar between these shapes and different to the ones we had done before and she picked out that these were squares and the others rectangles. This led to a good discussion as to why this was, linking to the basic properties of squares/rectangles and introducing the terminology square numbers and what that means.

I then looked at these two:

We had done 3 x 4 first then I said to do 4 x 3, she said “it will be the same because it doesn’t matter which way round they are”, so we did it anyway to check and talked about why that was. I tried to incorporate the words congruent and commutative into the discussion, but I think they went over her head.

At this point her role changed to teacher and we had to teach all these things to her dolls…..

It was fun to play with Cusineire rods like this, and the mathematical discussion they provoked flowed very freely, so I can certainly see that thIs could be very helpful in lessons.

In other manipulative news: I had 20 minutes or so free earlier and spend it looking at Jonny Hall’s (@studymaths) excellent mathsbot website. In particular his virtual manipulatives section. I found what I think to be some good ideas for algebra tiles and double sided counters and think that virtual manipulatives may be a very good way of getting these things into lessons.

Primed

July 16, 2019 Leave a comment

Recently I’ve seen a couple of things on twitter that I’ve thought quite interesting because they have got me thinking about the way I tackled them.the first was this:

It was shared by John Rowe (@MrJohnRowe) and posed a nice question looking at two cuboids that had the same volume asking for the side lengths. It said to use digits from 0-9 without repetition. My immediate thought was to consider prime factors:

2, 3, 2^2, 5, 2×3, 7, 2^3, 3^2

I only had one each of 5 and 7 so discounted them. And I had an odd number of 2s. This meant I’d need to discount either the 2 or the 8. Discounting the 2 left me with factors of 2^6 and 3^4 thus I needed 2^3 x 3^2. I had a 1 I could use too so I had 1x8x9 = 3x4x6. This seemed a nice solution. I also considered the case for discounting the 8. I’d be left with 2^4 and 3^4 so would need products of 2^2×3^2. 1x4x9 = 2×3×6. Also a nice solution.

Afterwards I wondered if John had meant I needed to use all the digits, I started thinking about how this could be done and realised there would be a vast amount of possibilities. I intend to give this version of the the problem more thought later.

The next thing I saw was this:

From La Salle Education (@LaSalleEd). Again it got me thinking. What would I need to get the product 84? The prime factors I’d need would be 2^2x3x7. This gave me only a few options to consider. 1 cant be a number as the sum will always be greater than 14 if 1 is a number. 7 has to be one of the numbers, as if its multipled by any of the other prime factors we have already got to or surpassed 14. So it could be 2,6,7 (sum 15) or 4,3,7 (sum 14) so this is our winner.

These problems both got me thinking about how useful prime factors can be, and they both have given me additional thoughts as to what else I could and should be including in my teaching of prime factors to give a deeper and richer experience.

Prime factors can crop up so many places, and I feel sometimes people let them get forgotten or taught in isolation with no links elsewhere. I always use them i lessons o surds and when factorising quadratics but know lots don’t do this.

I will write more on prime factors later, but for now I’m tired and need sleep. If you have any thoughts on prime factors or any additional uses not mentioned here I would love to here them. Please let me k ow i the comments or on social media.

N.b. The La Salle tweet includes this link which takes you to a page where they are offering some great free resources.

Constructions

July 12, 2019 4 comments

One topics I have never been a fan of teaching is constructions. I think that this is due to a few factors. Firstly, there is the practical nature of the lesson, you are making sure all students in the class have, essentially, a sharp tool that could be used to stab someone. I remember when I was at school a pair of compasses being used to stab a friend of mines leg and this is something I’m always wary of.

Secondly, the skill of constructing is one that I struggled to master myself. I was terrible at art, to the point where an art teacher kept me back after class in year 8 to ask why I was spoken about in the staffroom as the top of everyone else’s class but was firmly at the bottom of his. I explained that I just couldn’t do it, although it was something I really wished I could do. He was a lovely man and a good teacher and he offered to allow me to stay back every Monday after our lesson and have some one to one sessions. I was keen and did it, this lasted all through year 8 and although my art work never improved my homework grades did, as he now knew I was genuinely trying to get better. I have always assumed the reason I am poor at art is some unknown issue with my hand to eye coordination, and I have always blamed this same unknown reason for struggling sometimes with the technical skills involved in constructions. Since coming into teaching I have worked hard to improve at these skills, and I am certainly a lot lot better than I used to be, but I still feel I have a way to go to improve.

For these reasons I chose to go to Ed Southall’s (@solvemymaths) session “Yes, but constructions” at the recent #mathsconf19. Ed had some good advice about preparation and planning, but most of that was what I would already do:

Ensure you have plenty of paper, enough equipment that is in good working order, a visualiser etc.

Plan plenty of time for students to become fluent with using a pair of compasses before moving on.

He then moved on to showing us some geometric patterns he gets students to construct while becoming familiar with using the equipment. Some of these were ones I’d not considered and he showed us good talking points to pick out and some interesting polygons that arise. The one I liked best looked like this:

This is my attempt at it, I used different coloured bic pens in order to outline some of the shapes under the visualiser.

The lesson was successful, the class can now all use a pair of compasses and we managed to have some great discussions about how we knew that the shapes we had made were regular and other facts about them.

Next week we need to move on to looking at angle bisectors, perpendicular bisectors, equilateral triangles, and the such. I hope to get them constructing circumcircles of triangles, in circles of triangles and circles inscribed by squares etc.

Here are some more of my attempts at construction:

“Constructing an incircle” – I actually did this one in Ed’s session!

“A circumcircle” – I drew the triangle too big and the circle goes off the page. Interesting to note the centre is outside the triangle for this one.

“A circle inscribed within a square” – this is difficult. Constructing a square is difficult and that is only half way there if that. This is the closest I have got so far and two sides are not quite tangent.

“A flower” – nice practice using a pair of compasses and this flower took some bisectors too.

If you have any ideas for cool things I can construct, and that I can get my students to construct, please let me know in the comments or on social media.

Radical Exponents

July 6, 2016 1 comment

Recently I saw this from brilliant.org on Facebook and it struck me as an interesting problem:

the first solution is trivial and obvious:

But the Facebook post said there was two, so I set out in search of the next one. As there were exponents I thought I’d take logs of both sides:

Then realised I could take logs to base X and make things a whole lot simpler….

So x = 9/4

As you can see it reduces to an easily solvable problem, and all that was left was to check the answer:

A lovely little problem that gives a good work out to algebra and log skills.

Is one solution more elegant?

May 14, 2016 13 comments

Earlier this week I wrote this post on mathematical elegance and whether or not it should have marks awarded to it in A level examinations, then bizarrely the next day in my GCSE class I came across a question that could be answered many ways. In fact it was answered in a few ways by my own students.

Here’s the question – it’s from the November Edexcel Non-calculator higher paper:

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I like this question, and am going to look at the two ways students attempted it and a third way I think I would have gone for. Before you read in I’d love it if you have a think about how you would go about it and let me know.

Method 1

Before I go into this method I should state that the students weren’t working through the paper, they were completing some booklets I’d made based on questions taken from towards the end of recent exam papers q’s I wanted them to get some practice working on the harder stuff but still be coming at the quite cold (ie not “here’s a booklet on sine and cosine rule,  here’s one on vectors,” etc). As these books were mixed the students had calculators and this student hadn’t noticed it was marked up as a non calculator question.

He handed me his worked and asked to check he’d got it right.  I looked, first he’d used the equation to find points A (3,0) and D (0,6) by subbing 0 in for y and x respectively. He then used right angled triangle trigonometry to work out the angle OAD, then worked out OAP from 90 – OAD and used trig again to work out OP to be 1.5, thus getting the correct answer of 7.5. I didn’t think about the question too much and I didn’t notice that it was marked as non-calculator either. I just followed his working, saw that it was all correct and all followed itself fine and told him he’d got the correct answer.

Method 2

Literally 2 minutes later another student handed me her working for the same question and asked if it was right, I looked and it was full of algebra. As I looked I had the trigonometry based solution in my head so starter to say “No” but then saw she had the right answer so said “Hang on, maybe”.

I read the question fully then looked at her working. She had recognised D as the y intercept of the equation so written (0,6) for that point then had found A by subbing y=0 in to get (3,0). Next she had used the fact that the product of two perpendicular gradients is -1 to work put the gradient of the line through P and A is 1/2.

She then used y = x/2 + c and point A (3,0) to calculate c to be -1/2, which she recognised as the Y intercept, hence finding 5he point P (0,-1.5) it then followed that the answer was 7.5.

A lovely neat solution I thought, and it got me thinking as to which way was more elegant, and if marks for style would be awarded differently. I also thought about which way I would do it.

Method 3

I’m fairly sure that if I was looking at this for the first time I would have initially thought “Trigonometry”, then realised that I can essential bypass the trigonometry bit using similar triangles. As the axes are perpendicular and PAD is a right angle we can deduce that ODA = OAP and OPA = OAD. This gives us two similar triangles.

Using the equation as in both methods above we get the lengths OD = 6 and OA = 3. The length OD in triangle OAD corresponds to the OA in OAP, and OD on OAD corresponds to OP, this means that OP must be half of OA (as OA is half of OD) and is as such 1.5. Thus the length PD is 7.5.

Method 4

This question had me intrigued, so i considered other avenues and came up with Pythagoras’s Theorem.

Obviously AD^2 = 6^2 + 3^2 = 45 (from the top triangle). Then AP^2 = 3^2 + x^2 (where x = OP). And PD = 6 + x so we get:

(6 + x)^2 = 45 + 9 + x^2

x^2 + 12x + 36 = 54 + x^2

12x = 18

x = 1.5

Leading to a final answer of 7.5 again.

Another nice solution. I don’t know which I like best, to be honest. When I looked at the rest of the class’s work it appears that Pythagoras’s Theorem was the method that was most popular, followed by trigonometry then similar triangles. No other student had used the perpendicular gradients method.

I thought it might be interesting to check the mark scheme:

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All three methods were there (obviously the trig method was missed due to it being a non calculator paper). I wondered if the ordering of the mark scheme suggested the preference of the exam board, and which solution they find more elegant. I love all the solutions, and although I think similar triangles is the way I’d go at it if OD not seen it, I think I prefer the perpendicular gradients method.

Did you consider this? Which way would you do the question? Which way would your students? Do you tuink one is more elegant? Do you think that matters? I’d love to know, and you can tell me in the comments or via social media!

Cross-posted to Betterqs here.

A lovely angle puzzle

March 24, 2016 4 comments

I’ve written before about the app “Brilliant“, which is well worth getting, and I also follow their Facebook page which provides me with a regular stream questions. Occasionally I have to think about how to tackle them, and they’re excellent. More often, a question comes up that I look at and think would be awesome to use in a lesson.

Earlier this week this question popped up:

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What a lovely question that combines algebra and angle reasoning! I can’t wait to teach this next time, and I am planning on using this as a starter with my y11 class after the break.

The initial question looks simple, it appears you sum the angles and set it equal to 360 degrees, this is what I expect my class to do. If you do this you get:

7x + 2y + 6z – 20 = 360

7x + 2y + 6z = 380 (1)

I anticipate some will try to give up at this point, but hopefully the resilience I’ve been trying to build will kick in and they’ll see they need more equations. If any need a hint I will tell them to consider vertically opposite angles. They should then get:

2x – 20 = 2y + 2z (2)

And

3x = 2x + 4z (3)

I’m hoping they will now see that 3 equations and 3 unknowns is enough to solve. There are obviously a number of ways to go from here. I would rearrange equation 3 to get:

x = 4z (4)

Subbing into 2 we get:

8z – 20 = 2y + 2z

6z = 2y + 20 (5)

Subbing into 1

28z + 2y + 6z = 380

34z = 380 – 2y (6)

Add equation  (5) to (6)

40z = 400

z = 10 (7)

Then equation 4 gives:

x = 40

And equation 2 gives:

60 = 2y + 20

40 = 2y

y = 20.

From here you can find the solution x + y + z = 40 + 20 + 10 = 70.

A lovely puzzle that combines a few areas and needs some resilience and perseverance to complete. I enjoyed working through it and I’m looking forward to testing it out on some students.

Cross-posted to Betterqs here.

The long way round

December 1, 2015 1 comment

Today one of my Y12s was looking through a C3 paper he found on my desk. (For those unaware A level maths, studied in Y12 and Y13, ie from 16-18, is currently modular. There are 4 Core Pure modules known as C1, C2, C3 and C4. The first two are studied in Y12 and the second two in Y13.) He came across this question:

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While looking at it he said, “are you sure this is a C3 question?” I told him it was and he then said “But I can answer it.”

I looked at the question, all the main skills it tests are taught at C1 and C2, but the chain rule for differentiation isn’t taught til C3. I thought about it and realised that yes, with the application of the binomial expansion (a C2 skill), or indeed a long winded brackets expansion, it would give him a polynomial he could differentiate.

Then it occurred to me that it was in fact a brilliant question to set my Y12s as revision. It allows them to see links between the things they’ve learned, allows them to practice important skills from C1 and C2, namely the differentiation, the coordinate geometry involved finding te equation of a tangent and the binomial expansion, and to solve a problem using those skills.

It took them longer than it would have taken someone who knew about the chain rule, but it was time we’ll spent and I got some perfect answers from them. I didn’t tell any of them how to do it, they managed to talk each other through it, and I only had to pick up on one slight error when one of them had a slight hiccup with a power. I think I need to have a good look through some more higher level papers to see if I can find any other gens to test the earlier skills.

This post has been cross-posted to Betterqs here.

Playing with jigsaws is the way forward

October 5, 2015 Leave a comment

This is a guest post written by my brother Andy (@andycav_25). Andy is a primary teacher in West Yorkshire and currently teachers Year 5.

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Fractions Jigsaw from NRICH

In the 2014 Primary National Curriculum, there’s much more emphasis on problem solving in maths. Henceforth, we’ve had a few staff meetings and twilights on this recently. We’ve been encouraged to use ‘rich mathematical tasks’, and some colleagues (myself included) expressed sheer horror at some of the ideas. However, I did embrace it and took a bit of a risk with my Year 5 class last Friday. If an OFSTED inspector had walked into the first 30 minutes of that session, I would’ve been mortified. If they’d walked in at the end, I would’ve been ecstatic.

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Definition from Simon Borget

We’d been doing fractions, decimals and percentages all week and, in my timetable, I have a 2 hour session every Friday morning. I normally do 2 lessons in this time unless it can be used for a science experiment, art or D&T depending on the long term plans. Last Friday, maths was the winner. The NRICH website is great for providing these rich mathematical tasks and I found this one, which I really liked the look of. Children had to complete a jigsaw on a 5×5 grid. Each square is cut into 4 triangles that were either blank (these would eventually form the outside of the jigsaw but there were a few extras thrown in) or they had a calculation using fractions. Obviously, the children had to match up the triangles to create a jigsaw.

I thought that it had to be a pair or small group activity, so do you group them as high/low ability or assign a high ability with a low ability? I kept the high achievers together this time, as an experiment in itself as much as anything.

What unfolded in front of me was just amazing. Every single kid in my class engaged. I don’t think I’ve ever achieved that before in 5 years as a teacher (and another few before that as a TA/HLTA).

One child in my class is ridiculously talented in maths (earlier in the term, it had taken him about 5 minutes, without a calculator, to find all of the factors of 256. He’s 9!). He absolutely loved this jigsaw task. He thrived on the challenge but was also made to reassess a few times when things didn’t appear to be working. It took his group about 45 minutes to complete the jigsaw, but when I spoke to them about how they did it, it was one of the lesser but still more able kids who had spotted the pattern in the jigsaw. They had taken on different roles in the group with child A quickly calculating in his head and child B spotting patterns to assist child A in finding the correct pieces.

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Solution

That group also complained to me at one point that they had 6 ‘top’ pieces, which doesn’t work on a 25 square. They told me that it was wrong. ‘Look again,’ I said, numerous times. Eventually, they did realise that there were two blank areas inside the grid too.

The middle ability groups really struggled at first. As had been the plan at the offset, I shared a few answers and gave them a starting point after about 20 minutes. Bang. They started working through that grid as fast as I’ve ever seen them work in the 4 weeks they’ve been in my class. Not everybody finished (in fact probably only about half did, if that) but that didn’t matter either to me or them. They had all achieved something and we all knew it.

Once the HA group solved it, I gave them a template of the solution to make their own – they had fun testing each other. At that point, I also shared that template with the rest of the class as an extra piece of scaffolding. That made some of them look and immediately say ‘we need that shape here so which piece fits?’ Another great use of mathematical thinking. Key question: what’s the same and what’s different about the pieces and what does this tell us?

At the end of the session, I did two plenaries. First, what skills have we used this morning? Answers: ‘fraction skills’, ‘teamwork’, ‘spotting patterns’. It took a little bit of guidance but that’s fine.

I would’ve liked ‘problem solving’ to be an answer but alas…

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We’ll get there in the end!

The second plenary was simple: ‘who has been completely confused and felt like your head is about to explode at least once this morning?’ (62 thumbs up – there’s 31 children in the class).

Who thinks you’ve made progress with your maths this morning? (again, 62 thumbs up). I think this risk definitely paid off! I will be trying to do at least one of this type of task or investigation for every topic in maths from now on. The skills and achievement shown by every child at their own level was amazing and they really enjoyed it too! Plus, there’s no marking to do… Bonus!

I enjoyed reading this post. It’s nice to get a fuller view of what maths is taught at primary and how it is taught. I love the resources on nrich, I’ve not used this specific one, but I certainly would if I have a class that it fits too. Have you used anything similar? What are your views on this task/these tasks?

Area Puzzle 21

September 23, 2015 2 comments

I came across the following area puzzle on Ed’s (@solvemymaths) site.

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I found it quite an interesting idea and had a little go at solving it.

First I considered an equilateral triangle, all the angles are 60 degrees so we can see the area would be (x^2 sin (60))/2. As sin 60 = 3^(1/2)/2 it was easy enough to solve.

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I then realised I could have used Heron’s Formula, so did it that way too. Luckily I got the same answer:

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The square was a tough one:

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Then I considered a pentagon, I wasn’t sure how to approach it at first,  so I reverted to my favourite shape, the triangle. Split the pentagon into 5 congruent isosceles triangles and solved with trig.

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Wolfram alpha gave me the lovely exact answer:

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I then considered the hexagonal case, which is really just 6 equilateral triangles.

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I approached the decagon in the same manner I had the Pentagon.

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And got an equally lovely exact answer:

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I enjoyed working through these, and thought it would make a nice lesson to build resilience and cognitive activation. I also thought about what else could be done. What does the sequence of side lengths generated look like? Could an equation be formed to describe it? What if we were looking at the areas of regular polygons with side length six, what would the sequence look like then? All these would make nice investigations.