Monthly Archives: November 2010

Trig Functions – a w00t and a help request

First off, a “hey this went well,” and then a “help me out.” :) These are both about my trig class.

Hey, This Went Well
I started today talking about amplitude and period of sine functions. They’d already understood that the period of sin(x) is 2pi, and they got pretty easily that the amount it goes above and below the x-axis is 1; I just had to add the word “amplitude” to their vocabulary. Check.

So then I put a GeoGebra window up on the projector and entered f(x)=sin(x), and I asked them what I should change about the equation in order to make the amplitude different. They weren’t quite sure what I meant, so I said, “Should I multiply sine x by something? Should I multiply the x by something before I take the sine? Should I divide instead? Should I add something at the end? Should I add something to the x before I take the sine? Should I subtract instead?”

Then they started conjecturing. I made them explain why they thought their particular change would effect the desired transformation, made them convince each other before I would type it in so we could see what it actually did. After we saw each change, I went back to f(x)=sin(x) before making another change, so we were always comparing our changes with the plain ol’ sine function. They were really pleased with being able to see the changes immediately.

It was also cool because we’d looked at what happened when we used f(x)=2sin(x) and f(x)=0.5sin(x), and then somebody said, “What if we used a hundred?” So I changed the coefficient to 100, and a couple of them said, “Whoa! It’s just straight lines!” Others said, “No, it just looks like that because it goes so far up and down.” The magic of the zoom feature allowed us to see that it was, in fact, still curving like we expected it to, just with really skinny humps. :)

So I think that using GeoGebra like that was a good way of looking at these transformations – they can make a guess, and we can see whether it’s right immediately. We can also use crazy big (or crazy small) numbers if we want to.

Help Me Out
I’ve got an idea, but it’s only partially formed right now. I don’t want it to flop like the last one (which involved kids spinning in circles and then releasing a stuffed animal – it was supposed to be about linear velocity, but it was a Fail, though they did enjoy going outside). So…here goes.

You know how when you walk, your body moves up and down? Walk across the room now. When your legs are side by side, you’re at your full height, but when one leg is in front of the other, the distance from the ground to the top of your head is less than your height. If you hold an arm straight out with a marker held to a long piece of paper, and you walk normally, the mark you make on the paper will be sinusoidal. (I remember my instructor showing us this in the health class I took in college…I don’t have a clue what his point was, but I thought it was cool.)

So I want to let my students do this. I want them to ask questions about what will be different for the curves formed by the tallest person versus the shortest person; what will be different between a girl and a guy; what will be different if a person is walking versus running; what changes if a person is on crutches (okay, I’m not sure if we could pull that one off or not, but it’s an interesting question, right?); what will be the same in each of these cases as well.

But I don’t want to get out there (I have an idea for where we can do this) and then just be wasting time with questions we won’t be able to answer. So I need to figure out how to structure this thing. Suggestions?

Advertisements

Unexpected Misconceptions

My trig students are now learning about the graphs of trig functions. (Yes, I’m behind.) I started off by talking about periodicity, and then I talked about how the values of sine and cosine repeat once we get all the way around the unit circle and start going around again. I then presented the idea of f(x)=sin(x) and started getting them to tell me what values I would plot.

They were confused. I figured out two major reasons for their confusion. The first one, I think I’ve addressed, but the second is, I think, still causing befuddlement.

Reason #1: I put a graph up there and used crazy things like pi/2, pi, 3pi/2, and 2pi as my notch marks on the x-axis. They’re used to integers there, and to think that I could divide my axis so that each notch represented pi/2…well, that was just insane to them. I think it relates to the way they don’t really like to think of pi as a constant, since they can’t express its value exactly in any way other than a weird Greek symbol. But I think I dealt with this one okay, though I might mention it again today just to make sure they caught on.

Reason #2: This is best expressed by giving a quote from a student.

“Why are you saying ‘sin x’ when sine is y?”

The student was confused because, on the unit circle, she had memorized that the y-value is the sine of the angle (which we’ve been calling theta). All that relating of the values on the unit circle to right triangles? Yeah, that didn’t work for her. She just memorized that “sine is y.” I tried to show her that we had been saying that sin(theta)=y on the unit circle, and that now instead of theta, x is the angle of which we’re taking the sine for our function…but I don’t think it clicked for her. Well, I thought it had, but then when I said that we could also do a function f(x)=cos(x), she said, “But then cos(x) would be y, and I thought sine was y?”

So I’m still working on that one. But I’m making myself notes, so that next year I’ll be able to anticipate these misconceptions and hopefully prevent them by changing my earlier instruction. I’m sure new ones will pop up to surprise me then. ;)