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 Christian Oropeza. His topic, from Precalculus: graphing sine and cosine functions.

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

An activity for students to understand how to graph sine and cosine could consist the use of website desmos (Reference 1). In this activity students will be in pairs and must complete a worksheet that list different forms of the equation sine and cosine that illustrate some of the transformations for sine and cosine. One student will enter the equation onto desmos and the other student will draw the graph on a separate worksheet. The pair will switch roles after each equation, so both students understand how to interpret and draw a given sine or cosine equation. After all the equations have been graphed and sketched, each pair will move on to the next part of the activity in which they must manipulate the equation asin(bx+c)+d and acos(bx+c)+d on desmos where a,b,c, and d are all  numerical sliders that can be adjusted to help students visually interpret what transformation they represent. Finally, to prove that students understood the material, each pair will come up with a sketch of a transformation of sine or cosine and trade with another pair of students, in which they must figure out the corresponding equation that matches the given graph.


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

This topic comes up any subject that has sinusoidal waves, such as physics, calculus, and some engineering classes. For example, in calculus graphing the derivative of sine gives the graph of cosine. This shows students that the slope at any point on the sine curve is the cosine and the slope of any point on the cosine curve is the negative of the sine. The topic of sine and cosine is a crucial component  in electrical engineering (EE). For EE, there’s a class called, circuit analysis that has a section named “Euler’s Sine Wave” and “Euler’s Cosine Wave”, which incorporates the use of Euler’s formula (Reference 2). Also, in electrical engineering, there’s a machine called a “signal generator”, which sends different types of signals as inputs to circuit. This machine can alter the frequency and amplitude of the signal, where amplitude represents the amount of voltage inputted into the circuit. In math, there’s a topic called “Fourier Series” that also incorporates sine and cosine (Reference 3).

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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.

Desmos (Reference 1), can be used to show students the different transformations of both functions. This way students can visually understand what each component is and how each component affects the functions y=asin(bx+c)+d and y=acos(bx+c)+d, where a is the amplitude, b is the period, c is the phase shift, and d is the vertical shift. Vision learning (Reference 4), is also a great website for students when they are introduced to the topic of sine and cosine. This website goes over the history of sine by relating it to waves and circles. The website first goes over how Hipparchus calculated the trigonometric ratios and how that led to the sine function. This website gives students a background on how the functions sine and cosine came to be over time. Also, this website talks about how when the Unit Circle is placed on a Cartesian graph, this illustrates how sine and cosine take over a periodic trend, so students can see why the graphs of sine and cosine are infinite if the domain is all real numbers.


  1. https://www.desmos.com/calculator
  2. https://www.khanacademy.org/science/electrical-engineering/ee-circuit-analysis-topic/ee-ac-analysis/v/ee-eulers-sine-wave
  3. https://www.mathsisfun.com/calculus/fourier-series.html
  4. https://www.visionlearning.com/en/library/Math-in-Science/62/Wave-Mathematics/131

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