Engaging students: Area of a 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 again comes from my former student Lucy Grimmett. Her topic, from Geometry: finding the area of a triangle.

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

This topic is perfect for creating a mini 5E lesson plan or a discovery activity. Students can easily discover the area of a triangle after they know what the area of a square is. I would give my students a piece of paper (can also use patty paper) that is cut into a square. The students would be asked to write down the area of a square and from there would derive the formula for a triangle by folding the paper into a triangle. They will see that a triangle can be half of a square. The students will be able to test their formula by finding the area of the square and dividing it by 2 and then using the formula they derived. If the two answers match then the student’s formulas should be correct. The teacher would be floating around the room observing, and asking probing questions to lead students down the correct path.


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

Finding the area of a triangle is important for many different aspects of mathematics and physics. Students will discuss finding the surface area of a figure, finding volume, or learning further about triangles. When discussing surface area and volume students will have to find the area of a base. In many examples a base can be a triangle. For examples, if a figure is a triangular pyramid and students are finding the surface area they will have to find the area of 4 triangles (3 of which will be the same area if the base is equilateral.) The Pythagorean theorem is also a huge aid when finding areas of non-right triangles. Mathematics consistently builds on itself. In physics triangles are very often used to find the magnitude at which force are being applied to an object. They use vectors to show this relationship and then use trigonometry functions (derived from the area) to find the magnitude of the force.

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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?

Finding the area of a triangle can be performed using different methods. Heron (or Hero) found Heron’s formula for finding the area of a triangle using its side lengths. Heron was considered the greatest experimenter of antiquity. Heron is known for creating the first vending machine. Not the type of vending machines we have today, but a holy water vending machine. A coin would be dropped into the slot and would dispense a set amount of holy water.  The Chinese mathematicians also discovered a formula equivalent to Heron’s. This was independent from his discovery and was published much later. The next mathematician-astronomer who was involved in the area of a triangle was Aryabhata. Aryabhata discovered that the area of a triangle can be expressed at one-half the base times the height. Aryabhata worked on the approximation of pi, it is thought that he may have come to the conclusion that pi is irrational.


Information found from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hero_of_Alexandria



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