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Olive & Oppong: Transforming Mathematics with GSP 4, page 97

Chapter 8: Trigonometry of the unit circle with GSP
Most high-school curricula introduce the trigonometric ratios using ratios in a right triangle. The three main ratios are usually defined for an acute angle, opposite/hypotenuse, cosine


(theta): sine




= adjacent/hypotenuse, and tangent


= opposite/adjacent,

where “opposite” refers to the side of the triangle that is opposite the acute angle refers to the shorter side of the triangle subtended by the angle longest side of the right triangle (see figure 8.1).

θ , “adjacent”

θ , and “hypotenuse” is the

Figure 8.1: A right triangle with angle


While this approach to the trigonometric ratios is helpful for students who have only had “triangle geometry,” it has limitations when introducing students to the trigonometric functions. One major limitation is that the angle


can only vary between 0 and 90º (or zero and π/2

radians). The trigonometric functions are functions of the angle an unlimited domain for the values of


(given in radians) and have


Angle rotation around a circle can provide this

unlimited domain. By convention, when starting with a unit circle on coordinate axes, the angle


is measured as rotation anti-clockwise, starting from the positive x-axis (see figure 8.2).

A major advantage to using the UNIT circle for this construction is that the hypotenuse now has length one unit. respectively. In figure 8.3: The hypotenuse of the right triangle is now in Quadrant II. In figure 8. to π/2.2: Trigonometric right triangle in the Unit Circle.Olive & Oppong: Transforming Mathematics with GSP 4. and therefore the sine and cosine ratios of the angle θ have the values of the lengths of the opposite and adjacent sides. . page 98 Figure 8. the right triangle is shown in the first quadrant of the coordinate system. Within this quadrant. Figure 8.2 above. θ ranges from zero θ has been rotated into the second quadrant.3.

It is important to realize that the length of the hypotenuse of the referent right triangle remains positive throughout this rotation (it is the radius of the unit circle). the rotation of the angle displacement along the x-axis. but sine θ in this second quadrant is is still positive as the opposite side is still in the positive half plane for the vertical axis. the trigonometric right triangle has shifted into the second quadrant of the coordinate system and the referent angle for the trig ratios is now π. θ as the independent θ has to be transformed into horizontal Most GSP sketches that generate trigonometric functions through animation of points on the unit circle and the x-axis are limited to one revolution of the point about the circle. gives a positive adjacent side and a negative opposite side and the referent angle at vertex A is now 2π. the value of vertex A (the original value of θ is 2π plus the referent angle at θ in figure 8. Thus.Olive & Oppong: Transforming Mathematics with GSP 4. unwrapping the circumference of the circle along the x-axis (this can be done in a variety of ways). This alternative approach has the advantage of providing a more extensive domain and range for the trigonometric functions. θ However. 2. As the hypotenuse continues to rotate into the third quadrant. In the following activity we demonstrate an alternative approach that can be viewed as wrapping the x-axis around the unit circle. 4. The familiar graphs of the trigonometric functions are generated by plotting the value of the trigonometric ratio (y) for any value of the angle variable (x). Continuing the rotation into quadrant IV. both adjacent and opposite sides will be negative and the referent angle inside the right triangle will be θ -π radians. the whole cycle repeats itself every full rotation around the circle (multiples of 2π radians). Rename this point "x". . Use the origin and unit point to create a unit circle. page 99 For values of θ between π/2 and π radians. On a new sketch create a set of axes using the Graph menu item. The construction is. the adjacent side of the triangle now lies on the negative x-axis and consequently has a negative value for its length. As the rotation continues and the hypotenuse crosses back into the first quadrant. Thus cosine negative. in effect. Set your angle unit to Radians using the Preferences under the Edit menu.2).1: Construction Steps for the Sine Curve 1. Thus.θ . Place a free point on the x-axis. 3.θ or the supplement of θ. Activity 8.

Moving point x along the x-axis will also change the range of the function (the locus follows point x).Olive & Oppong: Transforming Mathematics with GSP 4. Rename this point "sin x". Select point sin x and point x (in that order) and choose Locus from the Construct menu. Figure 8. 6. The graph of the sine function should appear as in figure 8. 9. The arc BB' (counter clockwise around the circle) has the same length as the segment from the origin to the point x (why?). Move point x back and forth along the x-axis to see the effect on B'.4 below. At this stage in the construction you should have a point B' on the unit circle. 7. 12. Measure the x-coordinate of point x. Multiply the x-coordinate by 1 radian using the calculator. Construct a line through point B' parallel to the x-axis. Construct the intersection point of these two lines. Select the origin point as a center of rotation (double click).4: Graph of Sine x from GSP The reason that this construction produces the sine function (rather than any of the other trigonometric functions) is that the height of point B' above the x-axis is equal in magnitude and . The rotation of B to B' has. The rest of the steps in the construction of the sine curve simply connect the motions of the input variable (x) with the output variable B'. in effect. page 100 5. wrapped that portion of the x-axis around the circle. 8. You can increase the visible range and smoothness of the function by increasing the number of objects in your locus (advanced preferences). Construct a line through point x perpendicular to the x-axis. Rotate the unit point (point B) by the measurement from step 6 (x radians). 11. 10.

the sine of the xcoordinate of point x. in fact. Assignment 8. Assignment 8.3: Construct a triangle (see figure 8.2 above). I have constructed the triangle formed by the origin (A). I leave these constructions as a challenge to the reader! Figure 8.2 and 8.5: The trig triangle in the unit circle.Olive & Oppong: Transforming Mathematics with GSP 4. Use this vertical segment to construct the locus point for cosine x. Using the vertical segments in these special triangles. Figure 8. In figure 8.6 illustrates one possibility for constructing tan x.2: Construct a triangle based on the standard right triangle shown in figures 8. Use this triangle to construct the locus point for tan x.5. point B' and the perpendicular from B' to the x-axis (point E). page 101 sign (positive or negative) to the sine of x (it is the “opposite” side in the referent right triangle as seen in figure 8. All of the trigonometric ratios can be formed from this triangle (see figure 8. controlled by the point B'. . that provide segments perpendicular to the x-axis whose distance above (or below) the x-axis is the same value as each of the other trigonometric ratios. lines parallel to the x-axis can be constructed that intersect the vertical line through point x to produce the locus points for each of the six trigonometric functions. Thus the y-coordinate of point "sin x" is.1 above).6) that will provide a vertical segment that will have length equivalent to the tangent of x radians. the distance EB' gives the value of the sine of angle EAB' (and of angle BAB'). Because the radius of the unit circle is one unit.5 that provides a vertical segment equal in length to the adjacent side of the referent circle. It is possible to construct appropriate triangles on this unit circle.

cosecant and cotangent of x. Compare these two approaches to introducing students to the trigonometric ratios and subsequently to the trigonometric functions.6: Graphs of Sin x and of Tan x using the unit circle in GSP Assignment 8.Olive & Oppong: Transforming Mathematics with GSP 4. What are the pros and cons of each approach? Would it be easier for students to start with rotation around a unit circle rather than with a right triangle? Why or why not? In what ways did the dynamic motion of points along the x-axis and the rotating points around the circle help you (or not) to understand the shapes of the graphs of the trigonometric functions? Do the dynamic possibilities with GSP help (or not) to visualize the periodic nature of the trigonometric functions? . page 102 Figure 8. Reflections: We started this chapter with a review of the right triangle trigonometry and then connected this typical approach for generating the trigonometric ratios to the rotation of a point around a unit circle.4 (Extra Challenge): Construct triangles based on the referent triangle that provide vertical segments equivalent in length to the values of the other three trigonometric functions: Secant.