Engaging students: Finding the equation of a circle

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 Noah Mena. His topic, from Precalculus: finding the equation of a circle.

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The equation of a circle relies on knowing the definition of a circle, knowing the radius and deciding where the circle is centered at. All of these come into play when a student has to find the equation of a circle. It takes basic understanding of the cartesian grid and understanding the coordinate system.  The equation of a circle also builds on students being able to manipulate the equation to get it into standard form and identifying the equation of a circle when it is expanded out. The shape of a circle should also be known, which means with the equation of a circle, students should be able to construct the perfect circle according to the given specifications in the equation.

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Learning to write the equation of a circle can be difficult. For one of my teaches last semester my mentor teacher suggested the use of a desmos paired with a worksheet to allow the students to explore what changes the standard equation of a circle. The worksheet had the students enter certain coordinates into the graphing calculator and write down what they thought was the equation of a circle. The next part of the assignment was student driven by having them share their conclusions on what the equation for a circle would be when it is centered at the origin vs. centered at (h,k). The worksheet shows that the students drove their own learning and came to their own conclusions which enhanced engagement through the lesson.

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This topic can come up again in trigonometry, upper level calculus and in math modeling. In my TNTX math modeling course, we took a closer look at the derivation of this equation and the subtleties of the standard form. This topic may also be used in physics calculations or in general, science labs.  For a physics word problem, it may ask you to calculate the net force and acceleration of a moving object around a circle. In this instance, it would suffice to just know the definition and general shape of a circle to complete these calculations. The definition of a circle is also needed to calculate centripetal force.

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