Engaging students: Computing trigonometric functions using a unit circle

In my capstone class for future secondary math teachers, I ask my students to come up with ideas for engaging their students with different topics in the secondary mathematics curriculum. In other words, the point of the assignment was not to devise a full-blown lesson plan on this topic. Instead, I asked my students to think about three different ways of getting their students interested in the topic in the first place.

I plan to share some of the best of these ideas on this blog (after asking my students’ permission, of course).

This student submission comes from my former student Angel Pacheco. His topic, from Precalculus: computing trigonometric functions using a unit circle.

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How can this topic be used in your students’ future courses in mathematics or science?

The first course to bring in the unit circle is Pre-Calculus. It is used in a lot in calculus when it comes to finding certain values of trigonometric functions. Knowing how the unit circle works, it allows the students to solve a lot of trigonometric functions on their own. Once students reach college level mathematics, they will learn that the unit circle is a key element to trigonometry.  Trigonometry is a huge part of all the calculus courses.

Science contains a lot of trigonometry, mainly physics. The law of sine and cosine allows the students to determine the angle an object is or even how far it is. Being able to use the unit circle to solve for functions, it allows them to use it any subject whether it be a science or a math class. Students or scientists that know how to solve trigonometric functions using the unit circle allows them to compute certain things on paper as opposed to relying on a calculator to do all the work.

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How can technology (YouTube, Khan Academy [khanacademy.org], Vi Hart, Geometers Sketchpad, graphing calculators, etc.) be used to effectively engage students with this topic?

Technology can be used to introduce and also evaluate their content. There are different ways to use technology. One example is using Khan Academy videos to show students how it works or how Khan explains. Students having to look at a video can have them engage on the topic. My personal favorite is to create an exciting video and put it on YouTube. I have noticed that parodies are a popular trend so creating a parody with the unit circle with a popular song will be effective to engaging the students to this topic. The next thing I would use for technology is graphing calculators. I think if the students see that the calculator gives them the same answer as the values they learned from the unit circle, they would be amazed on how the concept of the unit circle is. My classmates and I were in complete shock when we realized how the unit circle worked. My former teacher also had a clock based off of the unit circle so we had to learn it in order to read the time.

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How could you as a teacher create an activity or project that involves your topic?

The link below shows a sample lesson that allows the students work in groups to solve trigonometric functions and create a table that shows the solution to certain problems. The students will have a calculator with them that can be used for checking their answers to see if they are on the right track with the assignment. Also, having access to the computers to research particular things that they need for explaining will be acceptable. In my opinion, I feel that there is some tweaking that I recommend making it more effective. I would like to have a website that visually shows the unit circle. If possible, I would like for the students to have a worksheet that allows them to know which steps to follow to ensure that they are on the right track. A great form of assessment will be a quiz following this activity. I feel asking them to draw the unit circle and also solve certain trigonometric functions to see if they understand it. I would also like to like to bring in all six of the functions and show the relation with the unit circle.

Source(s): http://alex.state.al.us/lesson_view.php?id=27478

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