The elementary theory of numbers should be one of the very best subjects for early mathematical instruction. It demands very little previous knowledge, its subject matter is tangible and familiar; the processes of reasoning which it employs are simple, general and few, and it is unique among the mathematical sciences in its appeal to natural human curiosity.
G.H.Hardy. (1929). Bulletin of American Mathematical Society, 35, p.818.
The NCTM Curriculum and Evaluation Standards for School Mathematics (National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, 1989), Everybody Counts! (National Research Council, 1989), and Reshaping School Mathematics (Mathematical Sciences Education Board of the National Research Council, 1990) presented views of the improvement of mathematics education that give rise to approaches to redefine mathematics curricula and traditional teaching strategies. This argues for students becoming more aware of using appropriate technologies, and more interested in and motivated for learning mathematics in technology-rich environments. Indeed, technology as a tool for mathematics investigations brings about opportunities for new content, new curricula, and new teaching strategies (Lindquist, Harvey, & Hirsch, 1991).
In the past decade much has been done by mathematics educators in creating computerized interactive settings aimed at enhancing visualization as a powerful cognitive support in the learning of mathematical concepts. Yet, as Eisenberg & Dreyfus (1991) report, many difficulties with visualization cause student to gravitate away from visual thinking. Part of the difficulties might be ascribed to an inadequacy of a single visual representation of a concept involved, as people seem to have different sensations of visual information depending on the form in which this information is presented. Moreover, as suggested by Landesman (1993), sensations do not necessarily possess propositional content. Attempts to overcome visualization difficulties have brought about projects using multirepresentational strategies. These include both combination of existing computer mathematics systems (Franco, 1991; Dickey, 1993) and designing special purpose learning environments (Schwarz & Bruckheimer, 1990; Schwarz & Dreyfus, 1993). A project of Goldenberg (1994) used computer activities to promote an interplay among geometric, analytic, and algebraic thinking. These approaches seem to offer promising avenues for contemporary mathematics education; they stimulate seeking new domains previously not accessible for multirepresentational educational visualization and the following pages are about just that.
It may be noted that the use of different forms of computer-generated visual images in the study of mathematics involves mostly geometry, algebra, and calculus. But there has been little use of computers in the teaching and learning of number theory. Yet educational visualization provided by technology can be integrated into one of the oldest branches of mathematics. One enjoyable topic in number theory with little need for prerequisite knowledge is polygonal (figurate) numbers. The representation of numbers in simple geometric figures goes back to the arithmetic of the ancients when certain numbers were noticed to have different characteristics from others. Before arithmetic was transformed into the theory of numbers people used simple visual patterns to portray numbers. For example, a number of objects could be placed like pins in a bowling alley to form a triangle and in such a way the number becomes triangular. In much the same way a number of objects can form other regular polygonal patterns that represent numbers known as square, pentagonal, hexagonal, etc. All these numbers, as originated from geometry, are called polygonal numbers. Note that arithmetic and geometry are the two roots from which has grown the whole of mathematics; their mutual relation and consequently the more general interrelation of all mathematical theories has exceptionally great significance. The approach taken in this article shows that the concepts of polygonal numbers can be introduced to students not as a final formalized product, but rather as a result of a gradual elaboration of a simple geometric construction into an abstract mathematical model. Besides having historical and aesthetic appeal, integrating polygonal numbers into curriculum may have an important implication for pedagogy. Indeed, the awareness of the essential nature of mathematics and its evolution offers many profound lessons to anyone trying to be inducted into the field (Guzmán, 1994).
The role of visual strategies in the study of polygonal numbers has been repeatedly emphasized (Sobel & Maletsky, 1988; Ben-Chaim, Lappan, & Houang, 1989; Hitt, 1994). In the past, the use of computers in number theory investigations has not emphasized visual strategies and required skills in programming languages. In this article the authors suggest the use of newer software tools - dynamic geometry, a relation grapher, and a spreadsheet - to explore, investigate, and discover properties of polygonal numbers. Mathematical visualization based on these tools provides a dynamic interplay between geometric, analytical, and numerical representation of mathematical ideas allowing students to use this interplay for sense making in mathematics. The replacement of the process of programming by using a multiple-application medium is of a great importance to mathematics teaching - it gives students an opportunity to concentrate their attention on the subject matter rather than on details of syntax and semantics of the programming language. It places powerful tools for mathematics visualization under the control of the students and decreases an emphasis on authority-centered classroom discourse.
The study of triangular numbers has challenged mathematicians for centuries. These numbers represent number of dots, discs, spheres, or similar objects that can be arranged evenly in a triangular pattern as Figure 1 shows. The dynamics of the development of a triangular pattern from a set of dots arranged in a triangle can be visualized with Geometer's Sketchpad (GSP) - a dynamic software for exploring geometry.
There may be several ways to construct a triangular pattern
by using the GSP's menu-driven transformations such as rotation,
translation, and reflection. Version 2.0 of GSP has the capability
to define transformations based on constructed objects. The first
way may be in using the recursive feature of a script; that is,
to choose an arbitrary point and triangle, and define transformations
based on these objects. The creation of GSP script is described
I, giving a GSP tool called Script RC for generating the
triangular pattern. Figure 2 shows a triangular pattern at 5 levels
of recursion constructed by using Script RC.
Another way of construction of triangular numbers with GSP
will help students visualize how the triangular pattern evolves
from a set of dots arranged in a triangle. The creation of GSP
script is described in Appendix II, giving a GSP tool called Script
TR for generating the triangular pattern. Choosing three arbitrary
points B, A, and C in a clockwise order (B - the first, A - the
second, and C - the third point), one may play Script TR on these
objects. As a result one can visualize a dynamic construction
of triangular numbers. Figure 3 shows a triangular number of rank
7 presented as a geometric pattern.
One can slightly change the shape of the basic triangle (or
change the distance between points chosen) and construct several
triangular patterns. The activity demonstrates a process of transition
from concrete objects to abstract numbers: different triangles
are connected to the same (triangular) numbers. This is a very
simple but important example of how concepts of arithmetic arose
by way of abstraction, as a result of the generalization of the
Through exploring the triangular pattern of Figure 3, one may observe that any new side contains one more dot than its precedent. In other words, by counting dots one can describe the process of evolving a triangular pattern by the following sequence of sums of natural numbers
Performing addition results in the sequence of triangular numbers
which can be denoted as t(n).
Depending on how one counts the dots, triangular numbers can be formulated algebraically in two different ways. As we have already noted, each step in evolving a triangular pattern from a set of dots arranged in a triangle increases the number of dots by a successive natural number, i.e.,
Relation 1 is a recursive definition of triangular numbers
allowing the computation of any triangular number in terms of
a number of the previous rank.
One may count dots, however, not recursively, but directly; that is, by counting at each step all dots at once. In order to demonstrate how to do this, let two triangles of rank n (each side contains n dots) be arranged in the form of a parallelogram (Figure 4). This parallelogram has n+1 dots at each of n rows. Therefore the number of dots in the parallelogram is n(n+1), and the number of dots in the triangle is , and this is just the n-th triangular number. So, geometric consideration leads to another (a closed-form) algebraic formulation of triangular numbers
One may wonder whether Relations 1 and 2 generate the same
numbers. To make sense of this we suggest using a spreadsheet
- the most widely used application for Macintosh computers. A
spreadsheet makes it possible for students to perform such high-level
mathematics activities as modeling complex situations, investigating
the effects of changing entries on modeling data, discovering
number patterns through visualization, and making and testing
conjectures through numerical evidence. Students often have elementary
skills in operating a spreadsheet and defining functions in cells.
The teacher can exploit this by providing only technical assistance
in the modeling of Relations 1 and 2 on a single template. To
this end in column A positive integral values of n are
defined. In column B triangular numbers are defined through
Relation 1 as follows: cell B1 is entered with the initial
value, cell B2 is entered with the spreadsheet function
=B1+A2 which is then replicated down column B. In
cell C1 the spreadsheet function =(A1*A2)/2 is defined,
computes the first triangular number through Relation 2, and is
replicated down column C. As a result columns B
and C become filled with the same numbers thus confirming
equivalence of Relations 1 and 2 through numerical evidence.
Finally, triangular numbers can be represented analytically.
Throughout the article as a graphing software we employ a dynamic
application Algebra Xpresser (AX) which has the advantage of being
a relation grapher; that is, it allows the graphing of both explicit
and implicit functions (Goodman, 1993). Due to Relation 2 one
can graph the function y=x(x+1)/2 to get a visual image of triangular
numbers in the form of points with integer coordinates that lie
on a parabola (see Figure 5); that is, positive x-intercepts of
the parabola with level lines y=tn represent a rank of the triangular
number tn. In particular, an opportunity to visualize the existence
of two points on a parabola related to each level line may promote
the idea to consider triangular numbers of a negative rank (Guy,
1994). How could one allow rank to be negative? What is the geometric
interpretation of triangular numbers of a negative rank? This
is only one example of extending and exploring mathematical contexts
with technology tools. Such investigation is part of doing mathematics,
the flavor of teaching and learning mathematics in a dynamic way.
The next remarkable example of polygonal numbers are square numbers. These numbers represent number of dots, discs, spheres, or similar objects that can be subsequently arranged by evolving any of these objects into a square pattern. One can make constructions with the help of Script TR. To this end a square has to be constructed first. Let us denote its vertexes A, B, C, and D cyclically. Now highlight three of them in the following order: B, A, C and play Script TR to get half of a square pattern. To complete the square pattern highlight vertexes D, A, C, in that order, and then play Script TR. The square pattern has been constructed (Figure 6) and one can visualize that square numbers are constituted with triangular numbers. More specifically, any square number is the sum of a triangular number of the same rank and a triangular number of the previous rank.
Once a square pattern is constructed, students can visualize the iteration process that generates the dots. This process can be described in the following numerical form
Performing addition leads to the sequence of square numbers
which will be denoted as s(n).
Note that every term of this sequence is the sum of its precedent and the related odd number. This results in the following recursive formulation of square numbers
where n is rank of the square number s(n).
Relation 3 can also be constructed through the following geometric reasoning: each n-th step in evolving a square pattern from a set of dots arranged in a square adds a gnomon pattern which augments the number of dots by two times the number of dots on the preceding side of this square plus one dot, that is, 2(n-1)+1=2n-1.
Obviously, a closed-form formula for square numbers is as follows
What is less obvious, however, is that Relations 3 and 4 determine
the same numbers. As Dubinsky (1991) observed, "mathematics
becomes difficult for students when it concerns topics for which
there do not exist simple physical or visual representations"
(p. 201). Here again a computer can be used to visualize the equivalence
of different formulations through numerical evidence. The power
of visualization provided by a spreadsheet makes this task accessible
for all students at an empirical level through simple comparing
integers in two adjacent columns.
Finally, the use of AX allows a graph of square numbers on the "rank-side" plane (Figure 7), and it promotes the discussion about the extension of square numbers to a negative rank. Following are a few questions which could be asked at that point.
Graphical modeling makes it possible to explore facets of the theory that are not so obvious under the lights of dynamic geometry or a spreadsheet.
The next sequence that arises from evolving a set of dots arranged into a right polygonal pattern is a sequence of pentagonal numbers. Here again one can make constructions with the help of Script TR. To this end a regular pentagon has to be constructed and label its vertices cyclically, ABCDE. Once pentagon ABCDE has been constructed, it allows us to start using Script TR as follows.
Figure 8 shows a pentagonal pattern (pentagonal number of rank 5) constructed by the GSP with Script TR. Likewise in the case of square numbers, one can visualize that pentagonal numbers are constituted with triangular numbers: in particular, this sketch presents a pentagonal number of rank 5 as the sum of a triangular number of rank 5 and two triangular numbers of rank 4.
Observing the sketch and counting the dots within the pattern evolving from a set of dots arranged in a pentagon lead to the following arithmetic description of this pattern:
Performing addition yields the sequence of pentagonal numbers
which will be denoted as p(n).
In order to formulate numbers p(n) in a recursion form one may note (Figure 8) that each n-th step in evolving a pentagonal pattern from a set of dots arranged in a pentagon adds a gnomon pattern that augments the dots' total by one dot plus three times the number of dots on a side occurred at the (n-1)-th step, that is, 1+3(n-1)=3n-2. This results in the relation
where n is the rank of the pentagonal number p(n).
In order to formulate numbers p(n) in a closed form, note that any pentagon of rank n is constituted with three triangles - one triangle of the same rank and two triangles of rank n-1 (Figure 8). Therefore the total number of dots in a pentagon of rank n equals the number of dots in the triangle of rank n plus two times number of dots in the triangle of rank n-1. In other words,
The same relation can be constructed through comparing sequences of triangular numbers
and pentagonal numbers
This may result in the observation that due to numerical evidence, any pentagonal number beginning from 5 appears to be the sum of a triangular number of the same rank and two times a triangular number of the previous rank. In other words, Relation 6 holds. To test this finding through numerical evidence one can use a spreadsheet as follows. In columns A, B, and C positive integers n, triangular numbers, and pentagonal numbers are defined respectively. Then cell D2 is entered with the spreadsheet formula =B2+2*B1 which is then replicated all the way down. As a result the sequence of pentagonal numbers occurs in column D thus confirming students' finding through numerical evidence. It may be a challenge for students to use numerical evidence provided by spreadsheet modeling for developing mathematical induction proof of the relation
For more details see Abramovich & Levin (1994).
Finally, one can graph pentagonal numbers on the "rank-side" plane by using AX. That is, to set n=x, p(n)=y, and graph the function
The sketch shown in Figure 9 demonstrates graphically the dependence of a pentagonal number on its rank. Analytical representation of pentagonal numbers allows the raising of the following questions:
These and similar questions stimulate advanced mathematical
thinking and develop skill in exploring complex ideas in a technology-rich
Let us consider one more special case of polygonal numbers, namely, hexagonal numbers, which develop from a set of dots arranged in a hexagon. This pattern can be constructed through the use of Script TR in much the same way as in the above cases of square and pentagonal numbers.
To this end a regular hexagon ABCDEF has to be constructed and label its vertices cyclically, ABCDEF. Once hexagon ABCDEF has been constructed, its allows us to start using Script TR as follows:
Figure 10 shows hexagonal pattern constructed by GSP with Script
TR. One can visualize that hexagonal numbers are constituted with
triangular numbers: in particular, this sketch presents hexagonal
number of rank 6 as the sum of a triangular number of rank 6 and
three triangular numbers of rank 5.
Observing the sketch of Figure 10 and counting the dots within the evolving hexagonal pattern result the following arithmetic description of this pattern
Performing addition yields the sequence of hexagonal numbers
which will be denoted as h(n).
Visualization provided by GSP (Figure 10) suggests two analytic formulations of hexagonal numbers. A recursive formula
arises from iterative counting of the dots. In order to construct
a closed-form formula for numbers hn one may use a note about
the splitting of any hexagonal number into four triangular numbers,
Here again one can use a spreadsheet to justify through numerical evidence that Relations 7 and 8 generate the same numbers and then use numerical evidence provided by spreadsheet modeling for developing proof of the relation
by mathematical induction.
In order to represent hexagonal numbers graphically (Figure 11) students can use AX in graphing the function y = x(2x-1). There are several questions that students can be asked to address at that point.
Of course, a discussion may not be limited to these questions
since more knowledge generates more opportunity for inquiry.
So far we have considered four special cases of polygonal numbers - triangular, square, pentagonal, and hexagonal. Exploring their properties in a multiple-application environment makes it possible to find many common features represented in different settings. For example, one could observe on the plane of AX that graphs of Relations 2, 4, 6, and 8 all pass through the point (1,1) and that this is consistent with the fact provided by GSP that all polygonal patterns of rank 1 are single dot. Another common feature could be found through observing these graphs along with the modeling data of Relations 1, 3, 5, and 7 provided by a spreadsheet: numbers 6, 15, and 28 are triangular and hexagonal at the same time. Furthermore, the use of GSP made it possible to visualize that any square, pentagonal, or hexagonal number is the sum of two, three, or four triangular numbers, respectively. In other words, the sum of triangular numbers may be a triangular number of a higher rank. All these examples may motivate students to inquire whether it is possible to construct an environment for the study of polygonal numbers of arbitrary side and rank. Generalization will help discover what is in common and what is not about different polygonal numbers.
The power of visualization provided by GSP makes it possible to study the general case of polygonal numbers at an empirical, very intuitive level. This is consistent with an observation made by Piaget (1966) that "before being able to make a deduction the subject must observe it empirically in order to accept it as a true" (p. 232). In this vein, let us consider the GSP sketch in Figure 10 as a model of polygonal numbers (in this case, hexagonal numbers) of side m. The number of dots on each side of a polygon of rank n is exactly n. Denote P(m,n) as the polygonal number of side m and rank n. Recursive counting of the dots suggests that the transfer from n-1 to n in a polygon of side m increases the number of dots by (m-2)(n-1)+1. This leads to the following recursive definition of the polygonal number of side m and rank n
subject to the boundary condition
that is, every polygonal number of rank 1 is 1.
By plugging values m=3, 4, 5, and 6 into Relations 9 and 10, one can verify that Relations 1, 3, 5, and 7 are special cases of a general recursive definition of polygonal numbers.
One can also count the dots in an m-polygon of rank n by splitting the polygon into m-2 triangles of the same rank (Figure 10). Due to Relation 2 each triangle contains dots and the number of dots on each of m-3 overlapping sides is n. This way of counting of dots suggests the following closed-form formula for the polygonal number of side m and rank
Here again, by plugging values m=3, 4, 5, and 6 into Relation
11 one can justify that Relations 2, 4, 6, and 8 are special cases
of a general closed-form formula for polygonal numbers. Finally,
one may note that due to Relation 11, P(m,1) satisfies Condition
10. The latter may be given the following geometric interpretation:
all polygonal patterns of rank 1 are single dot.
In the previous sections we have discussed the results of analytical representation of triangular, square, pentagonal, and hexagonal numbers. It is also possible to explore the general case of polygonal numbers by graphing Relation 11 with AX. The important advantage of AX in comparison to other drawing applications is its ability to graph relations from any two-variable equations. This provides an opportunity to graph an equation without the need to convert the latter into a form suitable for "function grapher" software. So, setting x = n and y = m one can graph Relation 11 on the xy plane for any integer value of its left-hand side. This would make it possible to discover whether the graph (a level curve for polygonal numbers) passes through points with integral coordinates, and if so, every such point represents some polygonal number whose side and rank are just the coordinates of this point. The sketch shown in Figure 12 represents the use of AX in the modeling of the equation
on the "rank-side" plane for C=6, 15, and 28.
The search of points with integral coordinates through which the level curves pass results in the three pairs of points: (2,6) and (3,3), (3,6) and (5,3), (4,6) and (7,3). Already mentioned property of numbers 6, 15, and 28 can be used to interpret this finding: hexagonal numbers 6, 15, and 28 are also triangular numbers. Is this true for all hexagonal numbers? Why or why not? This problem presents an excellent opportunity to explore connections among different polygonal numbers by visualizing their level curves in an environment provided by AX.
Mathematical visualization of graphical representation of Relation 12 for different values of its right-hand side provokes many profound questions which can stimulate discussion, conjecturing, and computer usage for justifying conjectures through visualization. For example, by changing the scale one may note that each level curve has the same vertical asymptote x=1. In other words, Relation 12 is not defined at the point x=1, though the latter does have a sense in terms of polygonal numbers. Furthermore, each level curve appears to have the same horizontal asymptote x=2, that is, y tends to 2 as x grows large. The following questions arise:
Indeed, speculating on these questions fosters analytic thinking
and promotes dynamic interplay between different representations
of a concept. Moreover, the use of AX in this context allows the
demonstration on a very simple level how analytic thinking can
be integrated into the theory of numbers.
Another benefit that results from Relation 11 deals with a possibility to construct a test for determining whether integer N is a polygonal number of side m and rank n. To this end let us multiply the right-hand side of Relation 11 by 8(m-2) and then add to the product. The result is a square because
Relation 13 -- known to Diophantus (about 250 A.D.) -- shows that if integer N is a polygonal number of side m and rank n, then the expression should be a perfect square. This, however, is not sufficient for N to be a polygonal number - a non-integral value of n may contribute to an integral value of
Indeed, setting n=7/3 and m=5 in the right-hand side of Relation 14 results in K=13. Resolving Relation 14 with respect to n results the condition providing the integral value for rank n :
This leads to the following criterion which we shall call the
A spreadsheet modeling of polygonal numbers through applying
of the Square Test to natural numbers will be discussed in the
Hoyles (1994) acknowledges the power of spreadsheet-based intuitive activities on the construction of polygonal numbers by pointing at cells by a mouse-pointer and describes a spreadsheet as an environment "where students generate situated abstractions of a mathematical nature" (p.174). The spreadsheet, however, allows students to do more than is generally assigned to it. One can use the tool to generate these abstractions both in terms of rank and side, and this provides visualization of polygonal numbers coordinated at one representation. More specifically, the computational capacity of a spreadsheet suggests three different approaches to the modeling of polygonal numbers which include
i) Modeling Relation 9 subject to Condition 10;
ii) Modeling Relation 11;
iii) Applying the Square Test to natural numbers.
A variety of modeling strategies provides representational
plasticity (Kaput, 1992) of a spreadsheet as an interactive medium
allowing a significant enhancement of visual information in the
context of polygonal numbers. In this section we examine ways
in which a multimodeling approach can be put to work.
Approach (i). Note that Relation 9 is a first order difference equation in two integral variables and that a spreadsheet is capable for numerical modeling of such equations (Abramovich & Levin, 1994). This can be done through the following simple programming of a spreadsheet (referred to below as TMG). In column A and in row 1 positive integers m and n are defined respectively. In column B beginning from cell B4 Condition 10 is defined. The spreadsheet function =B4+1+B$1*$A2 is defined in cell C4 and computes the number P(3,2). This function is replicated to cell U21 by using the Copy and Paste commands. Note that here and below the $ sign in a spreadsheet formula designates a coordinate immediately to the right to stay the same across a template. Therefore, when the above formula enters into an arbitrarily cell it takes a current value of n from row 1 in the same column and a current value of m from column A in the same row. Figure 13 shows spreadsheet TMG filled with polygonal numbers.
As it has been already mentioned, demonstrated, and verified using multirepresentational strategies, square, pentagonal, and hexagonal numbers can be developed from triangular numbers. One can visualize on a spreadsheet TMG (Figure 13) that this is also true for polygonal numbers of side more than 6, and therefore to come up with the following conjecture
In other words, mathematical visualization leads to the discovery of the following theorem attributed to Bachet:
Any polygonal number of side m is the sum of the triangular number of the same rank and m-3 triangular numbers of the previous rank.
Spreadsheet TMG (Figure 13) also allows learners to visualize that polygonal numbers of the same rank constitute arithmetic sequences. More specifically, if P(3,n) is a first term of such sequence then P(3,n-1) is its common difference. Generalization results the following conjecture
In other words,
Any polygonal number of side m equals to the polygonal number of side m-1 and of the same rank plus triangular number of the previous rank.
Students can be encouraged to justify their findings in different
ways -- through numerical evidence (approach (i)) and mathematical
induction (with respect to n). Moreover, as we shall see, Relations
15 and 16 can be visualized with a help of GSP, that is, conjecturing
can be supported by proofs without words.
There are many interesting relations that can be discovered through exploring numbers in spreadsheet TMG (Figure 13) for example,
to name only one. The challenge for students might be to formulate
the sums of perfect squares and the sums of perfect cubes in terms
of triangular numbers.
Approach (ii). Note that Relation 11 formulates polygonal numbers in a language of discrete process depending on two integral variables. Similar to its ability to numerically model equations of partial differences, a spreadsheet can represent numerically the right-hand side of Relation 11 for different integral values of m and n. This has the advantage of modeling polygonal numbers both of positive and negative rank. The corresponding spreadsheet is constructed similarly to TMG (Figure 13) except the function =(B$1/2)*(($A4-2)*B$1-($A4-4)) which is defined in cell B4 and computes a triangular number whose rank is indicated in cell B1. Figure 14 shows polygonal numbers of both positive and negative rank.
Note that even if the teacher has no objective to introduce
the concept of polygonal numbers of negative rank, the students
could arrive at this concept occasionally, erroneously typing
a negative number in cell B1. As a response to that, a
spreadsheet would generate integers arranged into new patterns
so that it might be reasonable for the students to explore polygonal
numbers extended to a negative rank. This is a new way of learning,
when the motivation to study complex ideas stems from activities
of the learner who thereby is aware of the existence of a new
pattern as he or she has generated the pattern.
Approach (iii). Finally, one can model polygonal numbers through applying the Square Test to natural numbers. As we shall see below this modeling provides learners with a new arrangement of polygonal numbers on a spreadsheet template. This, in turn, makes it possible to visualize new patterns, to explore and discover new properties of polygonal numbers. The spreadsheet (referred to below as TSQ and shown in Figure 15) which implements the Square Test is programmed as follows. In column A beginning from cell A2 natural numbers N to which the square test is applied are defined. In row 1 beginning from cell B1 values of m are defined. In cell B2 the spreadsheet function
is defined and then replicated across the template. This function tests via the Square Test any positive integer in column A to be a polygonal number of the side displayed in row 1, and if so, a computer fills a cell with the rank of this number, otherwise leaves the cell empty.
The earlier remark about the advantage of multirepresentational
visual strategies becomes more clear now. Indeed, the environment
provided by spreadsheet TSQ (Figure 15) in comparison with
that of spreadsheet TMG (Figure 13) allows the facilitation
of the discovery of square numbers among triangular numbers, triangular
numbers among hexagonal numbers, and so on. For example, the arrangement
of numbers in Figure 15 clearly shows that 36 is the 8-th triangular,
6-th square, and 3-rd 13-gonal number at the same time. One can
also see that numbers 6, 15 and 28 are triangular and hexagonal
at the same time and this is consistent with the representation
of these numbers through level curves on the "rank-side"
plane of AX. Moreover, changing an entry of cell A2 (or
B1) results in immediate recalculation yielding new data.
This provides the in-depth insight of how the same integers can
represent different geometric patterns. The arrangement of polygonal
numbers on spreadsheet TMG (Figure 13), however, does not
provide a lucid visualization of what is in common about 6, 15,
and 28. On the other hand, spreadsheet TSQ (Figure 15),
being beneficial for many important observations described above,
is not very helpful in the visualizing of arithmetic series and
The curiosity of students can be highly motivated by the following demonstrations within spreadsheet TSQ (Figure 15): numbers 21, 2211, 222111, 22221111, ... , as well as numbers 55, 5050, 500500, 50005000, ... , are triangular; numbers 5151, 501501, 50015001, 5000150001, ... , and 45, 4950, 499500, 49995000, ... , as well as 45, 2415, 224115, 22241115, .... are both triangular and hexagonal. Moreover, spreadsheet TSQ (Figure 15) displays the rank of a polygonal number and in such a way students can visualize, for instance, that 45 (4950, 499500, 49995000) is triangular number of rank 9 (99, 999, 9999), and hexagonal number of rank 5 (50, 500, 5000). One may then observe that each of these polygonal numbers is the product of related ranks: 45=9·5; 4950=99·55; and so on. The following questions arise naturally:
Becoming aware of their ability to discover patterns they never knew before, the students will be highly motivated in answering questions. The teacher can exploit this by encouraging the students to make sense of the above phenomena. The list of questions can be continued:
We believe that speculating on such questions not only develops
skill in making connections among different representations of
a concept, but also provokes guessing and stimulates proving.
Many problems in the theory of numbers are of the following kind:
Express every natural number as a sum of finite number of integers from a given sequence.
Because sums are involved these problems constitute the so-called additive number theory. Mathematics visualization allows students to discover that there are pairs of triangular numbers such that the sum of the numbers in each pair is a triangular number. A natural curiosity may raise the following questions:
To answer these and similar questions students can use a spreadsheet that generates and then sums polygonal numbers of any side given, and tests whether the sum is a polygonal number of the same/different side. A spreadsheet to explore sums of polygonal numbers is programmed as follows. In cell A1 the side of a polygonal number is defined. In row 1 (beginning from cell C1) and column A (beginning from cell A3) positive integers are defined. In cells C2 and B3 the spreadsheet functions
are defined respectively and compute polygonal numbers of the rank indicated, respectively, in cells C1 and A3. These functions are replicated, respectively, along row 2 and column B and display polygonal numbers of the side indicated in cell A1. Finally the spreadsheet function
is defined in cell C3 and tests whether the sum of two
related polygonal numbers is a polygonal number of the same side.
Computer experiments will lead students to many conjectures about numbers. And always when any new conjecture occurs the teacher has the responsibility to encourage students to validate the result in terms of formal proof rather than through numerical evidence alone. The latter does not guarantee its existence in the language of mathematics, but the power of computations suggests cues to intuition. Moreover, the usage of a computer may lead students to the forefront of knowledge in number theory explorations. The teacher should convey his or her respect and admiration toward hypotheses that result from students curiosity, and thereby boost students' awareness of themselves as doers of mathematics.
The important theorem of additive number theory that can be conjectured and validated through special cases is that
Every natural number is
1) either a triangular number, the sum of two such numbers, or at most the sum of three triangular numbers;
2) either a square number, the sum of two such numbers, or at most the sum of four square numbers;
3) either a pentagonal number, the sum of two such numbers, or at most the sum of five pentagonal numbers; and in general,
4) either a polygonal number of side m, or the sum of at most m such numbers.
In spite of the elementary statement of this theorem, stated
by Fermat, its proof - given first by Cauchy about 160 years later
- requires more than elementary means. As Gauss noted, "in
arithmetic the most elegant theorems frequently arise experimentally
as the result of a more or less unexpected stroke of good fortune,
while their proofs lie so deeply embedded in darkness that they
defeat the sharpest inquiries" (cited in Wells, 1988). In
this respect the spreadsheet turns out to be an invaluable medium
for students to do the same mathematics as greatest mathematicians
of the past did. In other words, this setting is conducive to
students' learning of significant mathematical ideas through re-invention
(Freudenthal, 1973; Pólya, 1978).
So far, GSP has served as an environment for developing the concept of polygonal numbers. Through actual construction of different polygons and their iterations students learn many powerful ideas of transformations geometry such as vectors, symmetry, rotation, reflection, dilation. However, the role of GSP can be significantly expanded if we consider it as a learning medium allowing demonstration and geometric interpretation of properties of polygonal numbers discovered through the use of a spreadsheet. In that way GSP can be employed to create proofs without words. An example of this is Bachet's theorem actually presented in a GSP sketch of Figure 10 (the hexagon serves as a model of a polygonal number of side m). One can visualize that any polygonal number of side m and of rank n is constituted with a triangular number of the same rank and m-3 (3 in the case of a hexagonal number) triangular numbers of the previous rank. The teacher can use color features of GSP in order to enhance the visualization.
In much the same way the use of GSP provides proof without words of Relation 16. Indeed, as Figure 16 shows, any polygonal number of side m and of rank n is constituted with a polygonal number of the previous side and of the same rank plus triangular number of the previous rank. It may be exciting activity for students - to discover properties of polygonal numbers on a spreadsheet template (or on a plane of AX) and then, in turn, to create proofs without words with a use of dynamic geometry.
In this article we have demonstrated the usefulness of the multiple-application medium for the study of polygonal numbers. Although the mathematics content is not common secondary school curriculum it does not require any knowledge beyond whole numbers, quadratic functions, and geometry of regular polygons, and therefore it is relevant to the 7-12 level.
It should be articulated why the software triple - dynamic geometry, a relation grapher, and a spreadsheet - has been chosen as a learning environment for this study. First, the dynamics of an iterative development of any polygonal pattern from a set of dots arranged in a regular polygon can be clearly visualized using dynamic geometry software like GSP which allows to define transformations based on constructed objects and use these transformations iteratively. Next, AX extends the capability of function grapher software and it allows the user to construct level curves for polygonal numbers without the need to convert their equations into an explicit form. The availability of level curves provides analytical visualization of different geometric interpretations of the same numbers. Finally, a spreadsheet is a generic computing tool allowing numerical representation of recursively defined concepts, including those expressed by equations of partial differences. All this makes it possible to use this software triple as a scaffold of the learning environment for polygonal numbers.
Several pedagogical changes and benefits occur in a computer-enhanced environment because the latter makes it possible to treat mathematical ideas more completely and in greater depth, to discuss many profound questions which the teacher and students alike may raise naturally due to the ease and variety of visual representations of ideas. Many open-ended questions that are dispersed across the article serve as an extension of basic activities, and they are aimed at promoting students' advanced mathematical thinking. In this setting the teacher's intervention into the students' work focuses on monitoring learning and provoking creative thinking, on bridging the gap between what students see and what can be actually seen, on helping to see the general beyond the particular (Hoyles, 1994). This makes the point clear that seeking an end to authority-centered classroom does not imply the neglecting of the role of the teacher in the learning process. On the contrary, the shift of this role from a giver of knowledge to a mediator and facilitator of students learning highlights the teacher as an important actor in the process of students mathematical development.
Another significant implication of a technology-rich classroom environment is to alleviate intellectual risks felt by students. Indeed, a computer serves as a reliable partner in helping students to address teacher's questions. When communicating an answer in this setting a student is aware of the success, as his or her argument has been obtained through interaction with software. In the case when spreadsheet modeling is involved, one proceeds from numerical calculations, something that mathematical epistemology considers as the most fundamental method which is both heuristic and demonstrative (Beth, 1966). Furthermore, the mental freedom of students serves as another factor which influences the learning process allowing students not only to seek answers but, better still, to come up with their own questions thus bringing about powerful instances of learning. An unusual student inquiry as occurred through visualization, may unexpectedly touch upon a new mathematical idea thus yielding the meaningful extension of the topic discussed.
The flexibility of multirepresentational strategies in the
context of independent or small group explorations accommodates
learners of different abilities. One can easily modify problems
under investigation, and change the degree of the complexity of
the ideas being explored. In this classroom dynamic, the use of
technology is not necessarily a factor that "slows the pace
of instruction" (Harvey & Osborne, 1991, p.83), but on
contrary, it allows to increase the number of questions asked,
augment students' enthusiasm for schooling, and foster their curiosity
and higher-level thinking and reasoning skills. It seems to be
of a great importance for mathematics teaching and learning that
students' involvement in the discussion of complex ideas may occur
occasionally, for example, through "playing" with entries
of a spreadsheet template, zooming on graphs of AX, coloring triangulated
polygons in GSP sketch, and so on.
Finally we argue that multiple-application medium suggested in this article is not only a means to represent knowledge in more than one way, but it is also a powerful cognitive support for learners to move flexibly among different levels that structure the learning process. According to constructivist approach the learner reflects on his or her own activity through reconstructing earlier schemes on a higher level, where they are integrated in a larger structure. Extending psycho-genetic studies of Piaget to advanced levels of mathematics, Dubinsky (1991) suggested to use a computer as a means to induce students into constructive activities that seem to be useful in acquiring advanced mathematical concepts. In the spirit of Dubinsky, the diagram of Figure 17 shows how a multiple-application environment allows in a natural way the use of coordination, reversal, and generalization as means for construction of knowledge of polygonal numbers. Indeed, numerical evidence coordinated with geometric images, and accessibility of immediate reversal to special cases, provide an ideal medium for generalization and in some cases could lead learners to the development of formal proof.
Abramovich, S., & Levin, I. (1994). Microcomputer-based discovering and testing of combinatorial identities. Journal of Computers in Mathematics and Science Teaching, 13 (2), 331-353.
Beiler, A.H. (1966). Recreations in the Theory of Numbers. New York: Dover.
Ben-Chaim, D., Lappan, G., & Houang, R.T. (1989). The role of visualization in the middle school mathematics curriculum. Focus on Learning Problems in Mathematics, 11(1), 49-60.
Beth, E.W. (1966). Strict demonstration and heuristic procedures. In E.W. Beth, & J. Piaget, Mathematical epistemology and psychology. (W. Mays, Trans.). Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Reidel.
Dickey, E.M. (1993). The golden ratio: A golden opportunity to investigate multiple representations of a Problem. Mathematics Teacher, 86 (7), 554-557.
Dubinsky, E. (1991). Constructive aspects of reflective abstraction in advanced mathematics. In L.P. Steffe (Ed.), Epistemological foundations of mathematical experience. New York: Springer Verlag, 160-202.
Eisenberg, T., & Dreyfus, T. (1991). On the reluctance to visualize in mathematics. In W. Zimmermann, and S. Cunningham (Eds.), Visualization in Teaching and Learning Mathematics (pp. 158-164). Washington, DC: Mathematical Association of America.
Franco, R. di. (1991). Visualization in intermediate analysis courses in an integrated computer environment. In W. Zimmermann, and S. Cunningham (Eds.), Visualization in Teaching and Learning Mathematics (pp. 158-164). Washington, DC: Mathematical Association of America.
Freudenthal, H. (1973). Mathematics as an Educational Task. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Reidel.
Goldenberg, E.P. (1994). Connected geometry: Geometric thinking in algebra and analysis; analytic and algebraic thinking in geometry. Paper presented at the Seventh annual international conference on technology in collegiate mathematics, Walt Disney World Dolphin, Lake Buenda Vista, Florida.
Goodman, T. (1993). Algebra Xpresser [Technology review]. Mathematics Teacher, 86 (2), 168.
Guy, R.K. (1994). Every number is expressible as the sum of how many polygonal numbers. American Mathematical Monthly, 101, 169-172.
Guzmán, M. de. (1994). The origin and evolution of mathematical theories. In D.F. Robitaille, D.H. Wheeler, and C. Kieran (Eds.), Selected Lectures from the 7th International Congress on Mathematical Education (pp. 147-155). Les presses de l'Université Laval.
Harvey, J.G., & Osborne, A. (1991). A calculator and computer technologies in mathematics classrooms: A user's guide. In F. Demana, B.K. Waits, and J. Harvey (Eds.), Proceedings of the second annual conference on technology in collegiate mathematics: teaching and learning with technology (pp. 74-86). Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.
Hitt, F. (1994). Visualization, anchorage, availability and natural image: polygonal numbers in computer environments. International Journal of Mathematical Education in Science and Technology, 25(3), 447-455.
Hoyles, C. (1994). Computer-based microworlds: A radical vision or a Trojan mouse? In D.F. Robitaille, D.H. Wheeler, and C. Kieran (Eds.), Selected Lectures from the 7th International Congress on Mathematical Education (pp. 171-182). Les presses de l'Université Laval.
Kaput, J. J. (1992). Technology and mathematics education. In D. A. Grouws (Ed.), Handbook of research on mathematics teaching and learning (pp. 515-556). New York: Macmillan.
Landesman, C. (1993). The Eye and the Mind. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Kluwer.
Lindquist, M.M., Harvey, J., & Hirsch, C. (1991). How mathematics content courses must change in light of technology and the NCTM curriculum standards. In F. Demana, B.K. Waits, and J. Harvey (Eds.), Proceedings of the second annual conference on technology in collegiate mathematics: teaching and learning with technology (pp. 20-27). Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.
Mathematical Sciences Education Board of the National Research Council. (1990). Reshaping school mathematics: A philosophy and framework for curriculum. Washington, DC: National Academy of Sciences.
National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. (1989). Curriculum and evaluation standards for school mathematics. Reston, Va.: Author.
National Research Council. (1989). Everybody counts! A report to the nation on the future of mathematics education. Washington, DC: National Academy of Sciences.
Piaget, J. (1966). Psychological problems of "pure" thought. In E.W. Beth, & J. Piaget, Mathematical epistemology and psychology. (W. Mays, Trans.). Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Reidel.
Pólya, G. (1978). Guessing and proving. Two-Year College Mathematics Journal, 9, 21-27.
Schwarz, B., & Bruckheimer, M. (1990). The function concept with microcomputers: Multiple strategies in problem solving. School Science and Mathematics, 90(7), 597-614.
Schwarz, B., & Dreyfus, T. (1993). Measuring integration of information in multirepresentational software. Interactive Learning Environments, 3(3), 177-198.
Sobel, M.A., & Maletsky, E.M. (1988). Teaching mathematics (2nd ed.). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Wells, D. (1988). The Penguin dictionary of curious and interesting numbers. London: Penguin Books.
1. Construct point A;
2. Construct triangle BCD;
3. Open SCRIPT and click "REC" (start recording).
Following are transformations based on objects chosen in items 1 - 2:
4. Highlight points B and C (in that order), go to TRANSFORM menu and click Mark Vector BÆC.
5. Highlight point A, go to TRANSFORM menu, click TRANSLATE, choose the line "By Marked Vector" and then OK. Denote the new point as E.
6. Highlight points B and D (in that order), go to TRANSFORM menu and click Mark Vector BÆD.
7. Highlight point A, go to TRANSFORM menu, click TRANSLATE, choose the line "By Marked Vector" and then OK. Denote the new point as F.
8. Highlight points E, B, C, D (four objects), go to the SCRIPT, click Loop, then Match, then Loop.
9. Highlight points F, B, C, D (four objects), go to the SCRIPT, click Loop, then Match, then Loop.
10. Click STOP (stop recording information). Highlight all, then copy and paste to a script (call Edit Menu), and save as Script RC.
11. To use Script RC select four points A, B, C, D , go to the Script RC, play the Script, and choose the depth of recursion (which depends on a computer memory capacity).
1. Construct an arbitrary triangle ABC (a triangular number of the second rank).
2. Mark Vector "AÆB" and translate triangle ABC (dots B and C, edges AB and CB) by this vector.
3. Mark vector "AÆC", translate parts of triangle the by this vector and connect dots in order to complete the image of triangular number of the third rank.
4. Repeat this construction to get an image of a triangular number of a chosen rank.
5. Highlight all, then copy and paste to a script (call Edit Menu). Save as Script TR.
This paper presents newer software tools - dynamic geometry, a relation grapher, and a spreadsheet - as an environment for the study of polygonal numbers through the use of multirepresentational strategies. The approach is based on developing recursive and closed formulations of polygonal numbers using computer-generated geometric patterns. The unique capability of computing and graphing software involved in the learning environment provides numerical and analytic representations of discrete concepts depending on two integral variables. This makes it possible to visualize in different settings polygonal numbers generalized from special cases both in terms of rank and side. Advanced mathematical visualization allows learners to recognize non-trivial patterns among polygonal numbers invisible within any other medium; to make conjectures and then, in turn, to justify these conjectures by interpreting computer-generated numerical evidence, geometric shapes, and graphs. Even though these may be elementary conjectures their proof often requires more than elementary means and in these cases computer applications provide demonstration only. In some cases, however, mathematical visualization stimulates the development of formal proof.