In this lesson, students will examine triangular numbers and see the
relationship to the handshake problem, which was explored in the first
lesson of this unit, Supreme Court Welcome. Students will first review the handshake problem and get comfortable with spreadsheets as a tool for representing patterns.
Open the class by displaying a spreadsheet program, and check for background knowledge of spreadsheet use. Use the Handshake
spreadsheet to review the handshake problem. The tabs at the bottom of
each page can be used to access different sheets in the file. Handshake
Graph shows a graph that compares the number of people to the number of
handshakes. Shake Table shows a table for the same data. Review the
formula that students discovered for the number of handshakes that
occur with n people: n(n – 1) ÷ 2. The formula can also be thought of as the number of people (n) times the previous number of people (n‑– 1),
all divided by two. Ask students to express this for any number of
people. Help students to understand the spreadsheet by reviewing the
- Columns are labeled with letters, A, B, C; rows are labeled with numbers, 1, 2, 3.
- Cells are named according to the letter of the column and number of the row: A1, B2, C1, D4, etc.
- The cell in the fifth column and seventh row, for example, is E7.
On the Shake Table of the Handshake
spreadsheet, the number 1 is listed in cell A3. Ask students, "How can
we write a formula to get the number 2 in A4, to get 3 in A5, and so
on? Explain that the numbers could be written by hand, but using a
formula allows us to generalize and extend this indefinitely. [The
formula "=A3 + 1" should be placed in A4. Then, the fill down
command can be used from the Edit menu to place the formula in
subsequent cells.] Show students the formula that appears in some of
the cells. They should notice that the spreadsheet changed the cell
number appropriately so that 1 was always added to the previous cell.
Ask students how to use the numbers in the column for people to
generate the numbers in the column for handshakes. [There are no
handshakes with just 1 person, so write 0 in B3. In B4, insert the
formula "=(A4*A3)/2." Again, copy the formula into subsequent cells
using the fill down command.] As above, have students examine
the formulas that appear in the cells. They should again notice that
the formula was automatically updated in each cell to use the number of
people from the correct row.
Next, use the spreadsheet to make the graph. Examine the
graph, and have students compare it to the graphs they made during the
previous lesson. Ask, "Is this graph linear?" [No, it is not linear.]
Again, ask students to explain how they know.
Transition to manipulatives to explore triangular numbers. Pass out tiles. Distribute the Triangular Numbers Activity Sheet. Ask students to draw the fifth triangular number on
their sheet; or, using algebra tiles or other manipulatives, ask them
to build it. Then, working individually, students should complete the
table on the activity sheet. Walk around the room as students work.
When most students are done, have them share their work with a partner.
Then, discuss the results as a class.
Triangular Numbers Activity Sheet
Students should recognize the pattern of 1, 3, 6, 10, as these
are the same numbers from the handshake problem. Ask them to explain
the pattern in the table. [The number of dots is equal to the figure
number multiplied by the next figure number and divided by 2.] Ask,
"How is this pattern different from the handshake problem?" [We are
examining the next number, not the previous number!] Allow students to
draw a graph on the activity sheet. Again, have students enter this
information into a spreadsheet and create a graph on the computer.
Students have now had practice with a table, graph, and
variable expression for another verbal problem. A picture can also be
used to describe the triangular numbers, as shown below. The entire
rectangle contains n(n + 1) dots. When the rectangle is divided in half, it forms one of the triangular numbers, and the number of dots is n(n + 1) ÷ 2.
To provide another example of the triangular number pattern, have students examine the Sum of Integers spreadsheet. This is the list of the first n positive integers. Ask students, "How can we apply what we just discovered to another situation?" Students will recognize the nth sum; that is, 1 + 2 + 3 + … + n = n(n + 1) ÷ 2. Students should predict whether this graph will be linea. [No, the rate of change is not constant; in addition, n multiplied by (n + 1) will yield a term of n2 in the equation.]
Questions for Students
1. How are triangular numbers similar related to the handshake problem? How are they different?
[The pattern is to multiply successive numbers and divide by 2; however, the handshake problem multiplies by the previous number, but the triangular numbers multiply by the next number.]
2. How do you know if a graph will be linear or not? How can you tell from a table of values? How can you tell from an equation?
[A curve will not have a constant rate of change from term to term in a table, but a straight line will. With an equation, if the highest power of the variable is greater than 1, a curve will result.]
3. What is the generalized form for the sum of the first n positive integers?
[n(n + 1) ÷ 2.]
- Were the students engaged when using the spreadsheets? How did the use of technology enhance this lesson?
- What connections did students make between the various
problems that were related? What connections did students make between
the various representations?
- How did this lesson address auditory, tactile and visual learning styles?
- Was this lesson developmentally appropriate? How would you change it?