Engaging students: right-triangle trigonometry

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 Kelsie Teague. Her topic, from Precalculus: right-triangle trigonometry.

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How has this topic appeared in popular culture?

In the famous T.V. show Numbers they do an episode using trig to find the angle of origin of the blood spatter. In forensic science they use trig every day to determine where the victim was originally injured. They can also use this to find the angle of impact, area/point of convergence, and area of origin.  The following power point goes into more detail: http://cmb.physics.wisc.edu/people/gault/Blood%20Splatter%20Trig.pdf

 If the blood was dropped by a 90-degree angle, the stain will appear to be an almost perfect circle.

We could get out some long paper and colored water and experiment with the idea of change of angle in the drop of blood and calculate the angles.

Angle of Impact =Sin (theta)= Width of drop/Length of drop.

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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?

YouTube is a great website for engagement because you can find many videos to start the lesson off with some previous knowledge that they will be using for that days lesson. The following video would be a good way to engage the students when talking about right triangle trig.

It’s to a song that they probably have already heard and it’s teaching them something they already know. Since the students already have knowledge of this, the video isn’t teaching them the topic but refreshing their memory in a entertaining fashion.

When looking for a good video, I ran across many that would work for this lesson, but this one seemed like it would grab the student’s attention more and keep their attention.

The above video is also a good one, and it shows the lyrics in the description so you can make sure what they are saying is mathematically correct so it doesn’t give the students any misconceptions.

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

If I was teaching at a school that was close to a hill or a mountain outside I could take my students outside and have them figure out how far up the mountain they would have to walk to get to the top. We could use a tap measure to measure how high they had the protractor in the air and then we could look up the height and distance away of the mountain. They then could use the protractor to find the angle between themselves and the top of the mountain. We could then use this information inside the classroom to solve how far to travel up the mountain.

mountaintrigSimilar to the above picture except they will know the height of the mountain.  This would show the length of the hypotenuse of the right triangle. They will have to subtract the height they have the protractor at from the height of the mountain to be accurate since the height of the mountain is from the ground up.

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