Friday was an amazing astronomical day, with the spring equinox arriving at 6:45 pm on the US East Coast (3:45 pm Pacific Time), exactly 13 hours after the maximum of a complete solar eclipse. We didn’t get to see the eclipse here in Philadelphia (or pretty much anywhere in the Western Hemisphere), and for us in Philly the eclipse marked the start of what we hope was our last big snowstorm of the season. Though it would have been nice if the storm had ended by the time of the equinox, that was not to be, so for us the astronomical start of spring was marked by winter’s fierce refusal to depart.

At such a time, when at least in this part of the country we’re all wondering when (or if) winter will ever be over, it was a delight for me to receive an email from Anna containing her “Hello Spring” sketch, and not only, or even mainly, because of its reminder that spring really will come, even if in its own time. More exciting for me was to see Anna’s expression of creativity, the joy she communicates through her sketch. Most students—and most teachers—use Sketchpad in a much more utilitarian fashion, as a way to explore a specific mathematical question or to produce a specific geometric or algebraic construction. That’s certainly worthwhile, and it would be hard to overemphasize either the importance of studying and learning mathematics or the advantages of doing so while using a dynamic, visual tool. But mathematics also plays an often unrealized role in art, in music, in dance, and so forth. For that reason it’s particularly exciting for me to see a student express herself through color, geometric shape, and animation as Anna has done here.

So cue the music, let the sun shine, and enjoy Anna’s animated movie.

In Anna’s original GSP construction, her “Cue the Music” button was a link button to a YouTube page of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. Like most things in every sketch, this button worked properly when exported to Web Sketchpad (WSP), and the music and the animation work very well together. In fact, there are a couple of places in the first movement where I can actually hear Anna’s bees buzzing, thanks to the violins.

In WSP, the original Cue the Music link button did the same thing as in native Sketchpad 5: it switched you away from this blog page when you press the music button. I didn’t like that; I wanted to continue watching Anna’s animated sketch, without interruption. And with WSP, there’s fortunately an alternative. Because WSP is implemented in JavaScript and HTML5, I was able to add some custom JavaScript in the sketch’s web page that detects when the user presses the “Cue the Music” button and takes appropriate action. In this case, the appropriate action is to call on HTML5 to play the Spring movements of Four Seasons (downloaded from freemusicarchive.org). When the first movement ends, I programmed the JavaScript to automatically play the second movement, and then the third. I dressed the code up a bit by allowing you to click “Cue the Music” repeatedly to switch from one movement to the next.

So I want to express my thanks to Anna for brightening for me these last days of winter—and I also want to thank her teacher, Chris Taranta, for encouraging her creativity and for putting her in touch with me. It’s been a pleasure!

]]>This post is by guest blogger Adrienne Barrett, who’s a senior mathematics and education dual major at Rowan University. She is currently student teaching and upon graduation in May, she hopes to find a full-time position teaching high-school mathematics. She’s always loved math, and studying it in college has given her a greater understanding of just how intricate and fascinating the subject is. She says, “I’ll forever consider myself a student of math because I believe that there are always new methods, representations and concepts to be explored.”

While searching for topics for my senior seminar project last semester, I came across a theorem known as Morley’s Trisector Theorem, discovered in 1900 by mathematician Frank Morley. It states that given any triangle the points of intersection of adjacent angle trisectors are the vertices of an equilateral triangle. The fact that performing a seemingly arbitrary action, such as trisecting angles of a triangle, produces a nontrivial shape—an equilateral triangle—fascinated me. I was hooked and I had to know more about this theorem.

By trisecting each of the interior angles of a triangle, you can find their points of intersection: the vertices of the First Morley Triangle. Below is a web sketch that will allow you to create and experiment with Morley triangles. (If you get confused, watch the short video beneath the sketch.) Click the top tool (Morley1) to create a triangle with one interior angle already trisected. Drag each pulsing vertex in turn, moving the triangle wherever you desire. Then drag the slider at the bottom of the sketch to rotate the trisection rays into position. To trisect a second angle, click the top tool again and drag the pulsing points onto the existing vertices in a way that trisects a different vertex. Use the tool once more to trisect the third vertex. Then drag the slider again (just because it’s fun to animate the trisection), leaving the angles fully trisected.

With the angles fully trisected, use the Point tool to construct the trisector intersections closest to the sides of the triangle. (Click the tool, drag the pulsing point to an intersection point, and release it when both trisectors light up. Repeat for each of the other two intersections.) These are the vertices of the First Morley Triangle.

Choose the Measured Triangle tool and drag its vertices onto the intersection points. You have now created the First Morley Triangle. What do you observe about its angle measurements? I encourage you to drag the vertices of the original triangle, as well as the slider, while you observe the behavior of ∆DEF.

If at any time you need to start over you can refresh your browser and the web sketch will become blank again.

Pleased as I was with this pretty picture, I had more in mind. Through my research I discovered that this is not the only result Morley’s Theorem provides. The First Morley Triangle is determined by the intersections of the trisectors of the interior angles of a triangle. But what about the reflex angles?

Morley’s Theorem also addresses this. Press the arrow button at the lower right of the sketch to go to page 2, which you can use to create the Second Morley Triangle. Using the second tool (Morley2), create a triangle with three trisected reflex angles. Once you have trisected all three angles, adjust the vertices, making the triangle small enough that you can see the more distant trisector intersections. (These intersections are located on the dashed lines that extend the trisectors, and are NOT the intersections closest to the sides of the triangle.)

Now use the Point tool to construct the trisector intersections, and use the Measured Triangle tool to create the Second Morley Triangle.

Take this one step further on page 3. We know that rotating a side of an angle about its vertex by 2π leaves it right back where it started—but the resulting angle’s trisectors would be in different places. That’s what the Morley3 tool does; it trisects the reflex angle, with an extra 2π added in. Use the Morley3 tool to trisect the reflex angles (with the extra 2π thrown in), and then (as before) use the Point tool to construct the intersections and the Measured Triangle tool to measure the angles of the triangle formed by the intersections. (This time the intersections are again close to the sides of the original triangle.)

While this tool adds 2π to the reflex angles being trisected, it is also possible to obtain the Third Morley Triangle by adding an extra 2π when trisecting the interior angles of the original triangle.

It is worth noting that up to this point, you have explored three equilateral triangles that are the result of Morley’s Trisector Theorem. The equilateral triangles that were created were done so using trisectors exclusively of one type: interior, reflex, or interior plus 2π/reflex plus 2π. While doing my research for my project and playing around in Sketchpad, I was impressed with these results. What fascinated me was what happens when you use combinations of different types of trisectors on the same base triangle. The result is that more equilateral triangles are formed! Naturally I spent an inordinate amount of time in Sketchpad creating my own triangle with all of its Morley triangles. There are 24 more triangles to be found that are equilateral and I encourage you to hunt for a few. Happy exploring!

]]>I’ve often been somewhat uncertain as to how valuable typical traditional Sketchpad users find custom tools, for two reasons:

(a) They’re hard to find; you have to click the Custom tool icon even to see them.

(b) It may not be clear what to do when; you have to open the Script View, or else watch the status bar at the bottom of the Sketchpad window.

Web Sketchpad’s construction interface is designed to address both issues:

(a) There’s no problem finding tools: their detailed icons are in plain view on the left side of the screen. This post’s sketch contains three tool icons. The first shows a bounded piece of a function graph, with one point determining the left bound and another the right bound. The second shows the graph of a function, and the third shows the region bounded by two functions, one defining the top edge of the region and another defining the bottom edge.

(b) It’s clear what to do: as soon as you click the icon, the entire construction is displayed, and the points or other objects you can match to sketch objects pulse until you’ve done something with them, either matched them to an existing object or dragged them to a new location.

So here’s a Pi Day challenge for students of Algebra 2, Precalculus, or Calculus: use the piecewise function tools below to create “Pieces of Pi:” the shape of π defined by piecewise functions, similar to the example on the right.

You’ll find tips in this video that illustrate how to use these tools to create the shape of the letter N.

If you want to experiment on your own with piecewise functions in Web Sketchpad, use this link to go to a Web Sketch that includes the tools above and three additional tools: Left and Right piecewise function tools (for a left-unbounded piece and a right-unbounded piece) and a New Parameter tool (to create parameters you can use in your function definitions).

]]>I recognize that the decision to incorporate specific tools encourages some lines of student thinking while discouraging others, but that doesn’t worry me much, as I can imagine using this image in developing the idea that projectile motion is parabolic, using it again a bit later to see if we can detect the effects of friction on the recorded motion, and revisiting it yet again in calculus to approximate the instantaneous rate of change in the ball’s position. To preserve some open-endedness, the first page’s text makes an effort to draw students’ attention away from the tools and toward the image. It’s not hard to elicit ten or a dozen things that students notice, and a similar number of things they wonder. By allowing no more than a single noticing or wondering from each student, and not giving away your hand by approving or disapproving of any of them, you can quickly have contributions from more than half the class just in launching this lesson.

In case the images on the tool icons haven’t already given away my agenda in this use of the picture, I’ll make it explicit now: I envision using this as a function-fitting activity in conjunction with studying the standard and factored forms of the quadratic function. I might use it in advance, asking students to note how each of the parameters changes the shape of the graph, and explaining that we’ll investigate these function forms in detail in the next few lessons. Or I might use it as review, giving students an incentive to revisit what they know about these two forms.

The picture (by leaving the ball’s path literally in the air) and the student wonderings provide both a real-world context and useful motivation for seeing where the ball goes after the images end. To find out, students will need to fit a function to the picture.

Press the button at the lower right corner of the picture to go to page 2, start with the topmost tool, and see how well you can fit a graph defined in that way to the ball’s flight. (When you click a Web Sketchpad tool, the complete construction appears, with the tool’s given objects pulsing. To use the tool, drag each pulsing object to specify how it connects with your existing sketch. You can drag it on top of an existing object to connect it to that object, or you can drag it to empty space to make it independent of the already-existing objects.)

Pages 3 and 4 are identical to page 2, allowing you to try one tool on each page and compare your results by flipping pages. I recommend to students using only one tool on each page, as otherwise the pages can become cluttered and confusing.

As you work to fit each of the three function forms to the ball’s trajectory, you may notice that you can change the position and scale of the coordinate system, which is itself an important lesson for students: they are permitted to choose a coordinate system that makes their work easier.

One last thought: In an introduction to the standard and factored forms of the quadratic function, the third tool serves as a teaser, giving students a taste of some fascinating future mathematics. But later on this same sketch would be useful to introduce students to a unit on fitting polynomial functions to data.

Another last thought: If you would like to use this with your class and want to have a fourth tool that uses the vertex form, let me know via the comments.

]]>With desktop Sketchpad, so-called “custom” tools can come to your rescue. By building an equilateral triangle just once, you can save it as a tool that can instantly create more equilateral triangles with just a few clicks of your mouse.

Despite their obvious value, custom tools lack visibility in Sketchpad’s interface. To find them, you need to burrow into Sketchpad’s custom tool menu, as shown below. Wouldn’t it be nice if using a square tool were as convenient as using the point, compass, and straightedge tools?

With Web Sketchpad, custom tools finally come out of the shadows. The web sketch below allows students to construct equilateral triangles, squares, rhombi, hexagons, and octagons simply by clicking the icons. If you click the equilateral triangle icon for example, you’ll see a preview of the triangle you’re about to create, with two of its vertices pulsating. By dragging both vertices to locations of your choice, the triangle becomes permanent. If you then click the equilateral triangle icon again, you can create a second equilateral triangle. And if you drag the pulsating vertices to coincide with two vertices from the first triangle, you can merge these points together, creating two attached triangles.

Use the above Web Sketchpad model to create tessellations. How many different ones can you make? If you make a mistake while building a tessellation, there unfortunately isn’t yet the ability to undo it. You’ll need to refresh your web browser window and start again.

If you’re interested in knowing how I built this set of polygon tools, I’ll describe briefly what I did: I began by constructing an equilateral triangle, square, rhombus, hexagon, and octagon in desktop Sketchpad. I took a screenshot of each polygon to be used as the icon for the tool. I then assembled the polygons into one Sketchpad document, followed a simple naming convention to indicate that these polygons were tools, and then fed the sketch through an exporter. Presto! The model was complete.

The opportunities for customizing sketches to contain only those tools relevant to an investigation are vast. In upcoming posts, I’ll present many more examples!

]]>But there is one element of desktop Sketchpad that has been conspicuously missing from Web Sketchpad; a fundamental ability of Dynamic Geometry software that’s essential to the mathematical and pedagogical value of Sketchpad. That element is construction.

It’s fashionable these days to think that students can learn mathematics simply by playing games in which they interact with objects already on the screen. I can think of few iPad apps in which students build their own mathematics from scratch. Indeed, our own Sketchpad Explorer app for the iPad is guilty of not allowing students to construct objects—and we’ve heard plenty of requests for adding that functionality!

When students open a new Sketchpad file on their computer, they’re presented with a blank screen. Much like the experience of starting with a blank word-processing screen, it’s up to students to decide what to create. There to help them are a variety of tools found in the toolbox (shown at right). These tools include a point tool, a compass tool, a straightedge tool, and a polygon tool.

Below is a Web Sketchpad model that displays a blank screen with a point, compass, segment, line, and ray tool ready for you to use. For those of you familiar with desktop Sketchpad, you’ll notice that these tools don’t follow the same conventions as their desktop counterparts. Notice, for example, that when you click or tap on the segment tool, you immediately see a preview of the segment in the sketch. The endpoints of the segment pulse, indicating that you can drag these points wherever you like to place the segment. Try constructing a triangle, a circle and its radius, and an isosceles triangle. You’ll see that when you drag the flashing points, you can merge them with other points or attach them to other objects, like circles and lines. If you’d like to return to a blank screen, simply refresh your browser window.

A caveat: We’re still in the early phases of developing tool functionality for Web Sketchpad, so features like the ability to undo your actions, hide objects, change colors, and add labels are not yet implemented.

You also might wonder about other functionality in desktop Sketchpad, like the ability to construct perpendicular lines, transform objects, and use “custom” tools that construct objects like squares nearly instantly with just a few clicks of your mouse. These capabilities do exist in Web Sketchpad. You’ll be reading about them (and experimenting with them) in the weeks to come here on our blog!

]]>The picture above comes from the 17th-century manuscript *Sive de Organica Conicarum Sectionum in Plano Descriptione, Tractatus* (*A Treatise on De**vic**es for Drawing Conic Sections*) by the Dutch mathematician Frans van Schooten. The ellipse construction in the illustration is quite simple. Press two pins into a corkboard, place a loop of string around the pins, pull the string tight with a pencil, and trace the pencil tip’s path as you pull the pencil around the taut string. Guaranteeing that the traced path is an ellipse is this definition of an ellipse: *An ellipse is the set of points P such that PF _{1} + PF_{2} is constant for two fixed points, F_{1} and F_{2}.*

I don’t think any introduction to ellipses is complete without students making their own physical model of the pins-and-string construction and experimenting with how the distance between F_{1} and F_{2} as well as the length of the string affects the shape of the ellipse. But I also think there is value in building a Sketchpad version of the ellipse construction. Below is a pre-built Web Sketchpad model that your students can investigate. In a future post, I’ll show how you can construct this model from scratch using Web Sketchpad.

Depending on how it is introduced, triangle area can be either dull and formulaic (“To calculate a triangle’s area, multiply its base by height and divide by 2″) or it can be an opportunity for discovery and critical thinking. As I would expect, *Everyday Mathematics *opts for the latter approach.

Below is a triangle. Put yourself in the shoes of an elementary-age student who doesn’t know the formula for triangle area but does know how to compute the area of rectangles. Can you use the draggable and resizable rectangles provided with the model to help compute the triangle’s area?

Below is an approach that a student might take, enclosing a triangle with the two rectangles. Notice that the rectangles divide the overall triangle into two right triangles. By visual inspection, it’s clear that the area of each right triangle is half the area of its associated rectangle. Thus the area of the entire triangle is ^{1}⁄_{2} (4·2) + ^{1}⁄_{2} (4·5), or 14 square units. By pressing *New Problem* and experimenting with other triangles (all of which have a base along the grid lines), students develop on their own the area formula for right triangles. Indeed, students may begin to suspect that this formula applies to all triangles, not just those with right angles

To continue their investigation, students press the arrow button in the lower-right corner of the sketch to move on to a new page of problems. These problems are of the same type as those they just solved, but with one difference: the dimensions of the two rectangles are provided. Since students have already determined that the areas of the rectangles are essential for finding the triangle areas, pedagogically it seems reasonable to now save them the effort of counting squares.

The third page of the interactive model above switches to a different type of challenge. As before, the goal is to use one or more of the rectangles to help determine the area of the triangle, but now, the triangle only occasionally has a base that sits along the grid lines.

In the example below, a student has enclosed a triangle with a single rectangle whose area is 8·6, or 48 square units. To determine the area of the blue triangle, the student realizes that she can subtract the areas of the three right triangles from the area of the rectangle. Thus the area of the blue triangle is 48 – ^{1}⁄_{2} (4·2) – ^{1}⁄_{2} (8·4) – ^{1}⁄_{2 }(4·6), or 16 square units.

I’ll leave you with one last question: How might you adapt this method to find the area of the triangle below?

]]>Throughout, I’ve tried to show that the introduction of the computer into the assessment process need not be a limiting factor in the mathematical questions we pose. Indeed, as I discussed in my prior post, assessment when done well can be an opportunity for students to learn new mathematics, and not just repeat what they already know.

But what about teachers? What can *they* learn from their students’ assessments? Below is a Web Sketchpad-based assessment question designed by my former colleague, Steve Rasmussen. Try solving it before reading further.

There are several ways to move from an equation of a parabola to its graph. You could explain your method to me in the comments section of this blog, but perhaps that isn’t necessary. There are clues lurking in your graph! Specifically, the placement of points *A, B,* and *C* have a story to tell.

Below are four identical graphs of y = *x*^{2} – 2*x* – 3, each with different locations of points *A, B,* and *C*. Imagine that each graph represents the work of a different student . Based on the locations of the points, see if you can describe how each of the students went about graphing the parabola.

OK, how did you do? It’s impossible to know for sure the thinking behind each of the four methods, but here are some reasonable guesses:

Method 1: The student set * x*^{2} – 2*x* – 3 equal to 0, factored it to find roots at –1 and 3, and dragged points *A* and *C* to (–1, 0) and (3, 0). She concluded by setting *x* = 0, finding the *y*-intercept of (0, –3), and dragging point *B* to this location.

Method 2: The student set * x*^{2} – 2*x* – 3 equal to 0, factored it to find roots at –1 and 3, and dragged points *A* and *C* to (–1, 0) and (3, 0). The student realized that the *x*-value of the vertex was midway between the two roots at *x* = 1. Substituting *x* = 1 into the equation revealed that the vertex was at (1, –4). The student dragged point *B* to this location.

Method 3: The student completed the square to determine that the vertex of the parabola sat at (1, -4). She dragged point *B* to this location. The student set *x* = 0 to determine its *y*-intercept and dragged point *C* to this location. Since the parabola is symmetric about its line of symmetry at *x* =1, the student knew, without performing any calculations, that point *A* must sit at (2, –3).

Method 4: The student picked three *x*-values at random (–2, 2, and 4) and substituted each into the equation to determine the locations of points *A, B,* and *C*.

Even though we can’t say with certainty whether our analysis is correct, I think it’s pretty amazing how much information we can gleam from the placement of points *A, B,* and *C*!

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Since some form of testing will always be with us, I choose to think positively, believing that good tests can foster and reinforce the types of mathematical thinking we’d like students to develop. In my utopian view of assessment, tests are opportunities for students to learn and for teachers to gather meaningful information about their pupils’ understanding.

Unfortunately, with computer-based testing on the rise, we’re seeing lots of assessment items that are easy for a computer to grade (e.g., multiple-choice questions) and far fewer questions that give students the chance to flex their mathematical muscles in productive ways.

In my prior posts, I presented two Web Sketchpad-based interactive assessments relating to isosceles triangles and the Pythagorean Theorem. You can be the judge, but I think both questions are small but important steps along the path to better computer-based assessments. Now I’d like to share another Web Sketchpad assessment item that I developed in collaboration with Steve Rasmussen, Scott Steketee, and Nick Jackiw.

Let’s start, as I have in my previous two posts, with a paper-and-pencil assessment question:

It doesn’t get more routine than this. Students must know the relationship between the slopes of perpendicular lines and use this information to derive the equation of the line in question. If they’re clever, they can sidestep the algebraic manipulation by noticing that only choice (b) has the correct slope.

By comparison, try the interactive Web Sketchpad item below:

The difference between the two questions is stark: Whereas the paper-and-pencil item basks in algebra and equations, the Web Sketchpad version eschews algebra entirely. This raises an interesting issue: By asking students to manually position a line rather than derive its equation, have we designed too simple a question?

I don’t think so.

From my experience teaching algebra to college students, the standard approach to lines and their equations is endlessly confusing. Slope, slope-intercept form, standard form, point-slope form…the terminology associated with linear equations produces a jumble of rules, leaving students convinced that lines are an impossible nut to crack. And to that list of half-understand terms, I would add “negative reciprocal.”

So suppose students who have never been introduced to the slope relationship of perpendicular lines work through a sequence of four questions like the one above (Press the arrow in the lower-right corner of the sketch to move between the questions.) Sketchpad can tell students whether their lines are perpendicular (press the *Check* button), but this is not the actual assessment piece of the task. Rather, students use this opportunity to gather data—numerical, visual, some combination of both—that helps them to make sense of what’s true about the slopes of *any* pair of perpendicular lines.

The real assessment comes afterward and is formative in nature. Students use their experience with Sketchpad to describe what they observed about the slopes of perpendicular lines. This write-up could take a variety of forms. Students might have discovered the negative reciprocal relationship and describe it with numbers alone. Or, they might draw and annotate a picture of slope triangles that visually demonstrates the relationship. There are lots of possibilities for what students might do (Try it with your students and let me know!)

I’m cheating a little here because students’ explanation of the slope relationship must be evaluated by a teacher, not a computer. But it’s through the experience of using the computer to experiment that students form their insights.

This makes for a nice example of how learning can take place *during* an assessment, and not just in a conventional lecture setting. With assessments like this, testing doesn’t sound so bad!

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