cheesemonkey wonders

cheesemonkey wonders

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Chords and Secants and Tangents, oh my!

Once you get to circles, chords, tangents, secants, arcs, and angles in Geometry, it's all just a nightmare of things to memorize — which means things to forget or confuse.

Rather than have students memorize this mishmash of formulas, I decided to have them focus on recognizing situations and relationships. And a good way to do that is with a four-door foldable.

Make it and use it.

Humans are tool-using animals. So let's do this thing!


Doors #1, 2, 3, and 4 each have only a diagram on their front door with color-coding because, as my brilliant colleague Alex Wilson always says, "Color tells the story."

Inside the door, we wrote as little as we possibly could. At the top we wrote our own description of the situation depicted on the door of the foldable. What's the situation? Intersecting chords. What is significant? Angle measures and arc lengths. What's the relationship? Color-code the formula.

Move on to Door #2.



We did the same thing with the chord, secant, and tangent segment theorems.




These two foldables are the only tools students can use (plus a calculator) for all of the investigations we have done with this section. They are learning to use it like a field guide — a field guide to angles and arcs, chords, secants, tangents. I hear conversation snippets like, "No, that can't be right because this is an intersecting secant and tangent situation."

My favorite is the "two tangents from an external point" set-up, which we have dubbed the "party hat situation" in which n = m (all tangents from an external point being congruent).

A big part of the success of this activity seems to come from teaching students how to make tools and to advocate for their own learning. Help them make their tools, set them loose, and get out of their way.

That's a pretty good strategy for teaching anything, I think.

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