Trigonometry falls firmly into the camp of one of those areas which I don’t feel I have cracked yet. If “cracked” means finding a bomb-proof way to introduce it to any class I encounter, then maybe I never will! Either way, I am always interested in different approaches to teach this topic which many students seem to struggle with at first.

This approach builds on the presentation that Mike Ollerton gave at the recent Mixed Attainment Maths conference in Sheffield (keep an eye on the site for details of the next conference in November!)

I didn’t actually attend Mike’s presentation – I was too busy giving my own – but Mike has kindly shared his ideas and I have been thinking about how I might use Geogebra as a tool to aid learning.

As with most of my use of Geogebra, I am using it as an exposition tool to structure whole-class questioning and discussion around. In an ideal world, I might get students to do this themselves, but that is not practical in my classroom. I feel that starting Geogebra from a blank sheet can be nearly as powerful as them doing it themselves and is likely to be a much more efficient use of lesson time.

The basic principle used is that of rotating a fixed line segment, a “spinner” if you like, around a point. We are aiming to explore the co-ordinates of the point at the end of the line as the angle increases from 0º to 90º (and beyond) in a table.

I must say that from this point onwards this post is **not** Mike’s recommended approach (which is here) – but my interpretation of it using Geogebra.

So, first step is to form the spinner by by plotting points at (0,0) and (1,0), zooming in and connecting the points with a line segment. There is something in observing what happens to the scale on the axes as we zoom in.

Next, we create the angle by using the Angle with Given Size tool. As the prompt says when you hover, the tool: select leg point, then vertex. Rather than fix the angle, I want to make a slider so I can easily change it. I set the angle “a” making sure to leave the degree symbol in place (otherwise you get radians). The slider then needs tweaking by double-clicking to set the max, min and increment.

Next, I need to make the line segment a bit bolder by right clicking on it…

..and change the properties of the point so it shows the coordinates to 2 decimal places, also using right click.

We now have a tool that can tell us the co-ordinates. Before using this, however, I think I would want pupils to do some work on paper, using Mike’s handout to get a feel for the numbers and get their own results. To fill in this table:

I feel that it’s useful that they have the opportunity to correct any measurement inaccuracies before the next step and this is where the computer helps.

As per the worksheet, a series of questions can be posed before using the calculator’s Sin and Cos functions to complete the following:

From there we can easily start exploring what happens when the side length is not 1 and use the ideas of scaling and similar triangles.

And then, of course change the angle again.

Once this is all set up, it’s easy to display / hide the coordinates and maybe so some miniwhiteboard work to assess how well the class has grasped the use of the Sin and Cos functions. And then keep the coordinates, but hide the angle to demonstrate inverse Sin and Cos.

With some practise and familiarity with Geogebra you are spending less than 3 minutes on the computer. If you like the idea of “Geogebra from a blank sheet”, click on the Geogebra category link at the top to see posts on using the same idea for other topics.