Engaging students: Graphing Sine and Cosine Functions

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 Emma Sivado. Her topic, from Precalculus: graphing sine and cosine functions.

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D.1: What interesting things can you say about the people who contributed to the discovery and/or the development of this topic?

First, I would pose the question “how did the Egyptians build the pyramids without calculators without measuring tapes and without the advanced mathematics we have today?” After a short discussion I would ask them if we want to build a pyramid that is 250 meters high and the base is 360 meters long how long would we need to make the hypotenuse? Already knowing the Pythagorean Theorem the students would be able to answer the question. Then, I would tell them that historians have found Egyptian scribes asking questions such as these in order to build the pyramids, and systems of ropes with knots were used to measure lengths. These relationships in right triangles created the sine and cosine functions we know today. Sine and cosine date back to 1900 BC where they were used to calculate angles in order to track the motion of the planets and stars. However, the definition of sine and cosine in terms of right triangles was not recorded until 1596 AD by Copernicus.



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A.2: How could you as a teacher create an activity or project that involves your topic?

I found a great activity that encompasses all of the aspects of graphing sine and cosine on the University of Arizona website. Depending on how transformations in the linear and quadratic functions were introduced, this activity could follow the same pattern; allowing the students to explore the ideas themselves and having them put the content into their own words. The activity begins by giving an example of a bug walking on an upright loop. The instructor asks the students what the graph would look like of the bug’s distance from the ground vs. time. I would probably use a different, more concrete example because there are plenty of things the students know that go around in circles. The best example I think is a Ferris wheel. So after the students are able to tell you what the graph would look like you relate that to the unit circle and how the sine and cosine functions follow the same pattern of going around the circle counterclockwise. Next, you let the students plot points from the unit circle onto the Cartesian plane showing them that their prediction was correct; the sine and cosine functions make a wave. Now that they have drawn the parent function you let them explore the functions f(x) = asinx or f(x)= acosx, then f(x) = sin(bx) or f(x) = cos(bx), then finally f(x) = sin(x+c) or f(x) = cos(x+c) to let them discover how a, b, and c change the amplitude, period, frequency, and starting point of the graphs.

This is a great activity because the students use multiple examples to see how a, b, and c affect the parent graph of sine and cosine. The activity promotes inquiry based learning and will help deepen the understanding of the graphs of sine and cosine.




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E.1: How can technology (YouTube, Khan Academy [khanacademy.org], Vi Hart, Geometers Sketchpad, graphing calculators, etc.) be used to effectively engage students with this topic? Note: It’s not enough to say “such-and-such is a great website”; you need to explain in some detail why it’s a great website.

Math can be seen in many forms of art from music to painting. I remember one of my favorite activities from math in high school was creating pictures with sine and cosine functions. We were able to draw flowers, clovers, and hearts simply with only the sine and cosine functions. After the students understand the parent function you can give them an exploration activity on their graphing calculator where they plug in various sine and cosine functions to draw flowers, clovers, and hearts. After that challenge the students to draw their own picture using the patterns they see from the examples. These same ideas can be used in computer graphics and animation to draw similar figures, and a lot of students are interested in computers and especially video games so this should be a fun activity for them.



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