Engaging students: Define the term angle and the measure of an angle

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 Perla Perez. Her topic, from Geometry: defining the term angle and the measure of an angle.

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


On teacherideas.co.uk, there is a very fun activity that helps students understand what an angle is. Karen Westley’s activity, Learning About Angles, involves the students forming a human angle by getting into two lines (Karen uses only one line) that connect at one point. The instructor then asks them to form angles of different degrees: 45º, 90º, 180º, etc. This activity is meant for ages five to eleven, but it can still be helpful for high school students, and can be modified to fit your class. For example, after finishing this activity have the students give a written definition of what an angle is based on their activity and their knowledge of line segments, vertices, rays, etc.




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


Angles are a fundamental part of geometry. It is essential that students know how to measure them because when coupled with the right information angles can help determine many different things about a shape, such as area, length of an arc, etc. The students will return to these ideas in more advanced math courses, specifically trigonometry and pre-calculus. For example a problem given in inmath.com says: “Find the area of the sector with radius with 7cm and central angle of 2.5 radians.” In order to answer this question, a student must know the two common types of measurement, degrees and radians. The student will also need to differentiate between the radius and radians since they sound similar and can be easily misinterpreted. When it comes to polar coordinates students will need to convert from the measure of an angle to rectangular coordinates which are in the form (x,y) rather in (r,theta).






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What interesting things can you say about the people who contributed to the discovery and/or the development of this topic?


The measure of an angle can be found in two common ways, through radians and through degrees. Dave Joyce from Clark University in his article “Measurements of Angles” says that even before Thomas Muir created the word radians, many mathematicians like Euler were using the idea long before him. That in fact was essential for his famous formula “e = cos θ + i sin θ”, which is true because “[you] measure angles by the length of the arc cut off in the unit circle”. Over time, mathematicians like Thomas Muir began to rediscover the measure of angles in the same way Euler did. An interesting fact about radians is that the angle is equal to the arc length divided by the radius. It was Euclid’s postulates that contributed to the finding the measures of angles without actually stating whether one uses a form of degrees or radians. This information can be found on the website: http://www.storyofmathematics.com/hellenistic_euclid.html and his book Euclid Elements.





Euclid’s Elements Book





One thought on “Engaging students: Define the term angle and the measure of an angle

  1. That’s … a very good question. I’m not sure how I would define an angle in a way that didn’t amount to drawing a couple examples and saying “one of those things”.

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