Engaging students: Deriving the proportions of a 45-45-90 right triangle

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 Amber Northcott. Her topic, from Geometry: deriving the proportions of a 45-45-90 right triangle.

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

There are ways to make the 45-45-90 right triangle not only interesting, but make it fun. A project or activity that I made up involves architecture using the special right triangle 45-45-90. In the project the students become architects. Their job is to create their own architecture, whether it is a bridge or house, etc. by using 45-45-90 right triangles. They must use a three to ten 45-45-90 right triangles. Once the students figured out how many they will use, they are going to draw their architecture. Then the students will label the sides and angles of what they drew. At the end of the activity or project they will solve the 45-45-90 triangles they used. An option for a long project is to actually build the architecture using measurable materials. The project will allow them to be creative and connect real life to the 45-45-90 right triangle. The students will also present their projects.

Another way to do the activity or project is make it a group activity and give the students some word problems dealing with architecture and have them choose one of those word problems. The students will then take the word problem and create the architecture in the word problem. They can draw it or create it, but it has to be measured and labeled along with finding the missing piece. Then they can present their findings, which includes how they came up with their measurements of sides and angles.

All the ways to do the activity or project will still need the student to be able to answer any questions that their peers or myself may ask. Also, at the end their will be a reflection on the project and their interpretation of how to solve the 45-45-90 right triangle.


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How has this topic appeared in high culture (art, classical music, theatre, etc.)?

Triangles can be seen everywhere. For example, they can be seen on bridges and buildings. The website geometrinarchitecture.weebly.com has a section talking about the special right triangles, which includes the 45-45-90 right triangle. On the bottom of the page the website shares pictures of windows, roofs, and even a front door is seen within a triangle. The webpage also gives examples of how the special triangles can be used in architecture.

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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? 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.

The dynamicgeometry.com website talks about the Geometers Sketchpad. After checking it out, I find that the program can be useful. The students can create their own 45-45-90 right triangles and explore the idea of 45-45-90 right triangles on their own after instructions on how to use the program. This engages them because the student will be able to think, how can I create a 45-45-90 right triangle? What is a 45-45-90 right triangle?  The students will have these questions and more, but those questions will soon be answered throughout the lesson itself.










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