Continued Fractions and the quadratic formula day 2

Yesterday my younger son and I did a fun project on continued fractions and the quadratic formula. He really seemed to enjoy it so we stayed on the same topic today.

I started by asking him to recall the relationship that we talked about yesterday and then to make up his own (repeating) continued fraction:

After he’d chosen the continued fraction to study, we looked at the first few approximations to get a feel for what the

Finally he used the quadratic formula to solve for the value of the new continued fraction – it turned out to be (3 + \sqrt{17}) / 2!

A fun connection between quadratic equations and continued fractions

My younger son is beginning to study quadratic equations in Art of Problem Solving’s Introduction to Algebra book. So far he’s essentially only seen quadratic equations that factor over the integers. For today’s project I wanted to show him that there are simple equations with fairly complicated (compared to integers!) roots.

We started with a problem similar to ones that he’s already seen:

Next I showed him a type of equations that he’s not see before and we spent 5 min talking about his ideas of how you could solve it:

Finally, for the specific equation we were looking at, I showed him how we could use continued fractions to solve it. As a bonus he remembered the connection between the Fibonacci numbers and the golden ratio and that got us to the exact solution!

Using Mathologer’s “Golden Ratio Spiral” video with kids

Mathologer recently published a terrific video about the Golden Ratio and Infinite descent:

As usual, this video is absolutely terrific and I was excited to share it with the boys. Here are their reactions after seeing the video this morning:

My younger son thought the discussion about the Golden Spiral was interesting, so we spent the first part of the project today talking about golden rectangles, the golden ratio, and the golden spiral:

My older son was interested in ideas about irrational numbers and why the spirals were infinitely long for irrational numbers. We explored that idea for using a rectangle with aspect ration of \sqrt{2}.

Unfortunately I did a terrible job explaining the ideas here. Luckily we were reviewing ideas from Mathologer’s video rather than seeing these ideas for the first time. I’ll definitely have to revisit these ideas with the boys later.

Part 2 sharing Mathologer’s “triangle squares” video with kids

Yesterday we did a project inspired by Mathologer’s “triangle squares” video:

Here’s the project:

Using Mathologer’s triangular squares video with kids

Today we took a closer look at one of the proofs in the Mathologer’s video -> the infinite descent proof using pentagons that \sqrt{5} is irrational:

Here are some thoughts from the boys on the figure and the proof. You can see from their comments that they understand some of the ideas, but not quite all of them.

Watching Mathologer’s video, I thought that the triangle proof about the irrationality of \sqrt{3} and the proof of the irrationality of \sqrt{2} using squares were something kids could grasp, but thought that the pentagon proof presented here was a bit more subtle. We may have to explore this one more carefully over the summer.

After discussing the proof a bit, I switched to something that I hoped was easier to understand. Here we talk about the different pairs of numbers that create fractions close to \sqrt{5}.

The boys were able to explain how to manipulate the pentagon diagram to produce the fraction 38/17 from the fraction 9/4 that we started with. From there the were able to also show that 161/72 was also a good approximation to \sqrt{5}:

Next we went to the computer to explore the numbers, and also to see how the same numbers appear in the continued fraction for \sqrt{5}.

In the last video we tried to do some of the continued fraction approximations in our head, but that wasn’t such a great idea. Here we finished the project by computing some of the fractions we found in the last video by hand.

I love Mathologer’s videos. It is amazing how many ways there are to use his videos with kids. Can’t wait to explore these “triangular squares” a bit more!

A fun math surprise with a 72 degree angle.

We’ve been talking a lot about 72 degree angles recently. Yesterday’s project was about a question our friend Paula Beardell Krieg asked:

Paula Beardell Krieg’s 72 degree question

In that project we learned that a right triangle with angles 72 and 18 (pictured below)

72 degree picture

Is nearly the same as a right triangle with sides of 1, 3, and \sqrt{10}

one three root 10 picture

Today I wanted to show the boys a neat surprise that I stumbled on almost by accident. The continued fraction expansion for the cosine of the two large (~72 degree angles) are remarkable similar and lead to the “discovery” of a 3rd nearly identical triangle.

We got started by reviewing a bit about 72 degree angles:

Now we did a quick review of continued fractions and the “split, flip, and rat” method that my high school teacher, Mr. Waterman, taught me. Then we looked at the continued fraction for 1 / \sqrt{10}:

Now we looked at the reverse process -> given a continued fraction, how do we figure out what number it represents? Solving this problem for the infinite continued fraction we have here is a challenging problem for kids. One nice thing here was that my kids knew that they could do it if the continued fraction had finite length – that made it easier to show them how to deal with the infinitely long part.

Finally, we went to the computer to see the fun surprise:

Here’s that 3rd triangle:

3rd Triangle

I love the surprise that the continued fractions for the cosine of the (roughly) 72 degree angles that we were looking at are so similar. It is always really fun to be able to share neat math connections like this with kids.

Exploring a fun number fact I heard on Wrong but Useful

I was listening to the latest episode of Wrong but Useful today:

The Wrong but Useful podcast on Itunes

During the podcast the following “fun fact” came up -> \ln(2)^5 \approx 0.16.

I thought exploring this fact would be a fun activity for the boys and spent the next 30 min daydreaming about how to turn it into a short project. I also wanted the project to be pretty light since today was the first day of school for them. Eventually I decided to explore various expressions of the form \ln(M)^N via continued fractions and see what popped up.

We started by looking at the approximation given in the podcast. During the course of the discussion we got to talk about the relationship between fractions and decimals:

Now we looked at some powers of \ln(3) until the phone rang. We found a neat relationship with the 5th power. This relationship was also mentioned in the podcast.

While I was on the phone I asked the boys to explore a little bit. Here’s what they showed me when I got back.

Oh, wait – EEEk – I just noticed writing this up that we counted back incorrectly in this video. Whoops! Here’s the number we thought we were exploring -> \ln(12)^{15} is very nearly equal to 850,454 + 19,118 / 28207.   The next approximation that is better is 850,454 + 33,481,089 / 49,398,529.

You can see in the pic below that the 19,118/28,207 is accurate to 12 decimal places!

Sorry for this mixup.

Continued Fraction

Next they showed me one more good approximations that they found -> \ln(8)^{18} is nearly an integer. After that I tried to show them one I found but we ran into a small technical problem, so no need to watch the rest of the video after we finish with \ln(8)^{18}.

Finally, I got the technical glitch fixed and showed them that \ln(11)^2 is approximately 5 3/4. The next better approximation is 5 + 1,907 / 2,543

So, a fun little number fact to study. Sorry for the bits of the project that went wrong, but hope the idea is still useful!

Continuing our look at continued fractions

Yesterday we did revisited continued fractions:

A short continued fraction project for kids

Today I wanted to boys to explore a bit more. The plan was to explore one basic property together and then for them to play a bit on the computer individually.

Here’s the first part -> Looking at what happens when you compute the continued fraction for a rational number:

Next I had the boys go the computer and just play around.

Here’s what my younger son found. One thing that made me very happy was that he stumbled on to the Fibonacci numbers!

Here’s what my older son found. The neat thing for me was that he decided to explore what continued fractions looked like when you looked at multiples of a specific number.

So, a fun project overall. Continued fractions, I think, are a terrific advanced math topic to share with kids.

A short continued fraction project for kids

I woke up this morning to see another great discussion between Alexander Bogomolny and Nassim Taleb. The problem that started the discussion is here:

and the mathematical point that caught my eye was the question -> which positive integers are close to being integer multiples of \pi?

One possible approach to this question uses the idea of “continued fractions.” I learned about continued fractions from my high school math teacher, Mr. Waterman, who taught them using C. D. Olds’s book.

So, today I stared off by talking about irrational numbers and reviewing a simple proof that the square root of 2 is irrational:

Next we talked about why integer multiples of irrational numbers can never be integers. This I think is an obviously step for adults, but it took the kids a second to see the idea:

Now we moved on to talk about continued fractions. I’m not trying to go into any depth here, but rather just introduce the idea. I use my high school teacher’s procedure: split, flip, and rat 🙂

We work through a simple example with \sqrt{2} and also see that the first couple of fractions we see are good approximations to \sqrt{2}.

With that background work we went up to use Mathematica to explore different aspects of continued fractions quickly. One thing we did, in particular, was use the fractions we found to find multiples of \sqrt{2} that were nearly integers.

Finally, we wrapped up by using continued fractions to find good approximations to \pi, e and a few other numbers.

Definitely a fun project, and one that makes me especially happy because of the connection to Mr. Waterman. Hopefully the boys will want to play around with this idea a bit more tomorrow.

3 proofs that the square root of 2 is irrational

My younger son has been learning a little bit about square roots over the last couple of weeks and I thought it would be fun to show him some proofs that the square root of 2 is irrational. Because this conversation was going to explore some ideas in math that are both important and pretty neat, I asked my older son to join it.

I wasn’t super happy with how this little project went – it felt a bit rushed while we were going through it. Hopefully a few of the ideas stuck.

We started by talking about the square root of 2 and what basic properties the boys already knew about it:

After that short introduction we moved on to the first proof that the square root of 2 is irrational – I think this is probably the most well-known proof. The proof is by contradiction and starts by assuming that \sqrt{2} = A / B where A and B are integers with no common factors.

The next proof is a geometric proof that I learned a few years ago from Alexander Bogomolny’s wonderful site Cut The Knot. It is proof 8”’ here:

Proof 8”’ that the square root of 2 is irrational on Cut the Knot’s site

If you like this proof, we have also explored some geometric infinite descent proofs in a slightly different setting previously inspired by a really neat post from Jim Propp:

An infinite descent problem with pentagons

Finally, we looked at a proof that uses continued fractions. It has been a while since I talked about continued fractions with the boys, and will probably actually revisit the topic soon. It is one of my favorite topics and always reminds me of how lucky I was to have Mr. Waterman for my math teacher in high school. He loved exploring fun and non-standard topics like continued fractions.

So, although I don’t go deeply into all of the continued fraction ideas here – hopefully there’s enough here to show you that the continued fraction for the \sqrt{2} goes on forever.

So, although this one didn’t go quite as well as I was hoping, I still loved showing the boys these ideas. We’ll explore them more deeply as we study some basic ideas in proof over the next year.

A continued fraction experiment

I’m a big fan of continued fractions – especially the many different ways that you can use them to help kids learn elementary math. Right now I’m studying square roots with my younger son and he’s taken quite a liking to continued fractions, too. See yesterday’s project, for example:

A surprise square root of 2 discussion

I intended for the focus of that discussion to be the standard proof of why \sqrt{2} is irrational. Instead, though, a large part of the discussion was about how you could use the continued fraction for \sqrt{2} to prove that it was irrational.

Having not learned my lesson already, I asked my son to sketch a proof of why \sqrt{5} is irrational, and he went down the continued fraction path again.

Even though this project is pretty difficult and many of the parts are really over my son’s head, I think this was a useful exercise. I also think that it all pretty much stands on its own, so I’ll present the four steps below without much comment.

Following this project, my son asked me if we could study more about continued fractions this week rather than just studying the current chapter in our book about square roots. Something about this topic has really caught his attention!

The continued fraction calculator we are using in the last video is here:

http://www.maths.surrey.ac.uk/hosted-sites/R.Knott/Fibonacci/cfCALC.html