Category Archives: trapezium

Proving Pythagoras

Although I’m sure I’ve taught Pythagoras lots of times, I have never really looked at the proofs before either for my own subject knowledge or with students. This may be because I was always happy when students had the understanding of how to apply the theorem and were able to find the missing side and so I left it at that.

Looking at proofs is a good way to deepen understanding of a topic, but generally shouldn’t be attempted the first time the topic is introduced, one of the points made in this comprehensive review of literature on how students approach proof in mathematics written by Danny Brown.

There are something like 140 different proofs of Pythagoras, lists 118 geometric proofs here.

I decided to work through three:

Proof 1

On squared paper, students draw two adjoining squares of side length a and b as follows:

Screen Shot 2016-06-07 at 21.28.10

Next they draw diagonal lines.  The first thing that needs proving is that these two lines are perpendicular which can be done by finding the gradient of each of them.

Screen Shot 2016-06-07 at 21.30.34.pngWe are now starting to get closer to a square of side c. A bit of cutting and rearranging and hopefully they establish that the area that they started with, a²+b² can be re-arranged to form c².

Here is a lovely Geogebra showing how these squares could tessellate for form Pythagorean Tiles.

Proof 2

This one is worth drawing although the scissors won’t help much here.  This is a Geogebra drawing of it (click on it to adjust the lengths):

Screen Shot 2016-06-07 at 21.41.22.png

A few of my students went down a blind alley with this one assuming that a is double b.  That is why it is useful to have the dynamic drawing to show that this is not the case. The crux to this one is seeing that the red square in the middle has side length (a-b) and then multiplying out (a-b)² to get the area of that square.

Proof 3

Screen Shot 2016-06-07 at 21.45.19

The third one I chose is fairly simple if you can remember the formula for the area of a trapezium! And really, once you’ve played this video over 10 times, nobody will ever forget that!

Screen Shot 2016-06-07 at 21.51.24.png