Engaging students: Defining sine, cosine and tangent in a 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 Jessica Williams. Her topic, from Geometry: defining sine, cosine and tangent in a right triangle.

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

I’ve actually had the opportunity to teach this lesson to my 10th graders last semester. It is a difficult concept for the students to understand, however if you teach it in a way the students are actively engaged, it helps extremely. Prior to this lesson, the students knew about the hypotenuse and knew the other sides lengths as “legs.” We started by calling 3 students up to the front to hold up our three triangle posters. (triangle cut outs with the 90 degree angle showing and then there was an agle missing). We asked the students how we could find a missing angle given only one side length. For starters, I demonstrated on one triangle by placing a spray water bottle at the missing angle given, and spray the water across.
I will then ask one student to come up to help me demonstrate on the other two triangles. We asked the student where the water is spraying. All of them said words along the lines of “across, away from the angle.” We eventually got to the word opposite. Then we called two students up to demonstrate with the water bottle to determine which side is opposite. If we always know the hypotenuse is the leg across from 90 degree angle, and the opposite side is the one across from the missing angle, then we discovered the last leg must be the adjacent side. Which adjacent means, “next to” or “beside”. Next, we teacher-lead the students through a SOH-CAH-TOA foldable under the doc cam. This was important because they used to later to answer multiple questions using smart pals. Smart pal questions on the board, allowed for EACH student to have to answer and show their work on their smart pal in order to hold it up once we asked for answers. This allowed for formative assessment for the teachers and for the students to see if they were correctly answering the questions. Next we incorporated a “find someone who” Kagan structure tool, which allowed the students to all be actively engaged and answering questions regarding the task. Then we explained and went over misconceptions as a class. It was a very successful lesson overall, and the students were all actively engaged the entire time!

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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?

Trigonometry was originally developed for the use of sailing as a navigation method. The origins can be traced back to ancient Egypt, the Indus Valley, and Mesopotamia. This was over 4000 years ago. Measuring angles in degrees, minutes, and seconds comes from the Babylonian’s base 60 system of numbers. In 150 B.C.E, Hipparchus made a trigonometric table using sine to solve triangles. Later on, Ptolemy extended the trig calculations in 100 C.E. Also, in interesting fact is the ancient Sinhalese used trig to calculate for water flow. Persian mathematician Abul Wafa introduced the angle addition identities. As you can see, there are MANY different mathematicians who distributed to the topic of trigonometry. A lot of them built upon previous work and discovered new formulas, identities, etc. It’s amazing to see how even trigonometry is used to every day life. You always hear people say, “When will I ever use this is life?” and it bugs me to hear this. However, I always have examples of how math is used in our everyday world and from a past long ago that advanced us to where we are today.


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How has this topic appeared in pop culture (movies, TV, current music, video games, etc.)?

I would show this video that I found on youtube. I would exclude the first movie example that involves shooting, however the rest are great examples.

Showing movie clips to students is always a great way to grab their attention. Visually showing them that math is a part of movies, and every day life shows them that it is important. This video would also be great to use as practice problem, but blur out one of the side lengths or angles missing. You could play the movie scene then pause it on the part with the triangle and have the students solve for missing angle or side length. It would be a fun activity for the students and involve great practice. You could even make this a homework assignment. It’s engaging to watch and keeps the student’s attention while doing homework. The video shows that math is involved in dancing, buildings, etc. This activity also can excite students to try to find math in the movies or tv shows that the watch. You could assign the students to pay attention to to the next couple of shows or movies the watch and to bring back to class an example or two of how math was incorporated in it. Mathematics goes unnoticed because it is honestly part of our everyday norm/lifestyle.

References: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LYNN0OYDUB4



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