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 Morgan Mayfield. His topic, from Precalculus: deriving the double angle formulas for sine, cosine, and tangent.
How could you as a teacher create an activity or project that involves your topic?
I want to provide some variety for opportunities to make this an engaging opportunity for Precalculus students and some Calculus students. Here are my three thoughts:
For precalculus students in a regular or advanced class, have them derive this formula in groups. After students are familiar with the Pythagorean identities and with angle sum identities, group students and ask them to derive a formula for double angles Sin(2θ), Cos(2θ), Tan(2θ). Let them struggle a bit, and if needed give them some hints such as useful formulas and ways to represent multiplication so that it looks like other operations. From here, encourage students to simplify when they can and challenge students to find the other formulas of Cos(2θ). Ask students to speculate instances when each formula for Cos(2θ) would be advantageous. This gives students confidence in their own abilities and show how math is interconnected and not just a bunch of trivial formulas.
Lastly, to challenge students, have them come up with an alternative way to prove Tan(2θ), notably Sin(2θ)/Cos(2θ). This would make an appropriate activity for students while having them continue practicing proving trigonometric identities.
This next idea should be implemented for an advanced Precal class, and only when there is some time to spare. Euler was an intelligent man and left us with the Euler’s Formula: . Have Precalculus students suspend their questions about where it comes from and what it is used for. This is not something they would use in their class. Reassure them that for what they will do, all they need to understand is imaginary numbers, multiplying imaginary numbers, and laws of exponents. Have them plug in x = A + B and simplify the right-hand side of the equation so that we get: where and are two real numbers. The goal here is to get . All the steps to get to this point is Algebra, nothing out of their grasp. Now, the next part is to really get their brains going about what meaning we can make of this. If they are struggling, have them think about the implications of two imaginary numbers being equal; the coefficient of the real parts and imaginary parts must be equal to each other. Lastly, ask them if these equations seem familiar, where are they from, and what are they called…the angle sum formulas. From here, this can lead into what if x=2A? Students will either brute force the formula again, and others will realize x = A + A and plug it in to the equation they just derived and simplify. This idea is a 2-in-1 steal for the angle sum formulas and double angle formulas. It’s biggest downside is this is for Sin(2θ) and Cos(2θ).IDEA 3:
Take IDEA 2, and put it in a Calculus 2 class. Everything that the precalculus class remains, but now have the paired students prove the Euler’s Formula using Taylor Series. Guide them through using the Taylor Series to figure out a Taylor Series representation of , , and . Then ask students to find an expanded Taylor Series of to 12 terms with ellipses, no need to evaluate each term, just the precise term. Give hints such as and to consider and other similar cases. Lastly, ask students to separate the extended series in a way that mimics using ellipses to shows the series goes to infinity. What they should find is something like this:
Look familiar? Well it is the addition of two Taylor Series that represent Sin(x) and Cos(x). This is the last connection students need to make. Give hints to look through their notes to see why the “a” and “b” in the imaginary number look so familiar. This, is just one way to prove Euler’s Formula, then you can continue with IDEA 2 until your students prove the angle sum formulas and double angle formulas.
How does this topic extend what your students should have learned in previous courses?
Students in Texas will typically be exposed to the Pythagorean Theorem in 8th grade. At this stage, students use to find a missing side length. Students may also be exposed to Pythagorean triples at this stage. Then at the Geometry level or in a Trigonometry section, students will be exposed to the Pythagorean Identity. The Identity is . I think that this is not fair for students to just learn this identity without connecting it to the Pythagorean Theorem. I think it would be a nice challenge student to solve for this identity by using a right triangle with hypotenuse c so that Sin (θ) = b/c and cos (θ) = a/c, one could then show either and thus or one could show (using the Pythagorean theorem).
From here, students learn about the angle addition and subtraction formulas in Precalculus. This is all that they need to derive the double angle formulas.
This would be a good challenge exercise for students to do in pairs. Sin(2θ) = Sin(θ + θ), Cos(2 θ) = Cos(θ + θ), Tan(2θ) = Tan(θ + θ). Now we can apply the angle sum formula where both angles are equal:
Sin(2θ) = sin(θ)cos(θ) + cos(θ)sin(θ) = 2sin(θ)cos(θ)
Cos(2θ) = cos(θ)cos(θ) – sin(θ)sin(θ) = (We use a Pythagorean Identity here)
Bonus challenge, use Sin(2θ) and Cos(2θ) to get Tan(2θ). Well, if , then
The derivations are straight forward, and I believe that many students get off the hook by not being exposed to deriving many trigonometric identities and taking them as facts. This is in the grasp of an average 10th to 12th grader.
What are the contributions of various cultures to this topic?
I have included four links that talk about the history of Trigonometry. It seemed that ancient societies would need to know about the Pythagorean Identities and the angles sum formulas to know the double angle formulas. Here is our problem, it’s hard to know who “did it first?” and when “did they know it?”. Mathematical proofs and history were not kept as neatly written record but as oral traditions, entertainment, hobbies, and professions. The truth is that from my reading, many cultures understood the double angle formula to some extent independently of each other, even if there was no formal proof or record of it. Looking back at my answer to B2, it seems that the double angle formula is almost like a corollary to knowing the angle sum formulas, and thus to understand one could imply knowledge of the other. Perhaps, it was just not deemed important to put the double angle formula into a category of its own. Many of the people who figured out these identities were doing it because they were astronomers, navigators, or carpenters (construction). Triangles and circles are very important to these professions. Knowledge of the angle sum formula was known in Ancient China, Ancient India, Egypt, Greece (originally in the form of broken chords theorem by Archimedes), and the wider “Medieval Islamic World”. Do note that that Egypt, Greece, and the Medieval Islamic World were heavily intertwined as being on the east side of the Mediterranean and being important centers of knowledge (i.e. Library of Alexandria.) Here is the thing, their knowledge was not always demonstrated in the same way as we know it today. Some cultures did have functions similar to the modern trigonometric functions today, and an Indian mathematician, Mādhava of Sangamagrāma, figured out the Taylor Series approximations of those functions in the 1400’s. Greece and China for example relayed heavily on displaying knowledge of trigonometry in ideas of the length of lines (rods) as manifestations of variables and numbers. Ancient peoples didn’t have calculators, and they may have defined trigonometric functions in a way that would be correct such as the “law of sines” or a “Taylor series”, but still relied on physical “sine tables” to find a numerical representation of sine to n numbers after the decimal point. How we think of Geometry and Trigonometry today may have come from Descartes’ invention of the Cartesian plane as a convenient way to bridge Algebra and Geometry.
I'm a Professor of Mathematics and a University Distinguished Teaching Professor at the University of North Texas. For eight years, I was co-director of Teach North Texas, UNT's program for preparing secondary teachers of mathematics and science.
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