NCTM’s Principles to Actions includes **build procedural fluency from conceptual understanding** as one of the Mathematics Teaching Practices. In what ways can technology help our students build procedural fluency from conceptual understanding?

I wrote last year about using technology to develop conceptual understanding of Trig Ratios.

This year, we started the lesson a bit differently. I read a while back about Boat on the River, a 3-Act that Andrew Stadel had published and that Mary Bourassa had used to introduce right triangle trig, but I had never taken the time to look it up.

We watched Act 1 to begin the lesson.

Students submitted what they noticed and wondered.

Then we thought about what information would be useful to know, along with thinking about what information would actually be reasonably attainable.

For example, many bridges are made to a certain standard height or have the clearance height painted on them. This one is no exception … the bridge height is given in the Act 2 information.

Students decided the length of the mast was attainable, too. And the angle at which the boat is leaning. Maybe there was a reading on the control panel.

So we ended up with something like this:

Students’ experience with right triangles to this point had been the Pythagorean Theorem, similar right triangles/altitude drawn to hypotenuse, and special right triangles.

I told them we’d come back to the boat problem by the end of class.

Next, I asked students to draw a right triangle with a 40˚ angle and measure the side lengths. I collected their side lengths, again, telling them that we would use this information later in class. (I wish I had asked them to do this part the night before and submit via Google Form … maybe next year.)

Students practiced I can look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning along with Notice and Note while first watching B move on the Geometry Nspired Trig Ratios activity and then observing what happened as I pressed the up arrow on the slider.

Eventually, we uncovered that the ratio of the opposite side to the hypotenuse of an acute angle in a right triangle is called the sine ratio. We connected that to triangle similarity as our content standard requires.

CCSS G-SRT

- Define trigonometric ratios and solve problems involving right triangles
- Understand that by similarity, side ratios in right triangles are properties of the angles in the triangle, leading to definitions of trigonometric ratios for acute angles.

We checked the ratio of the opposite side to the hypotenuse for the right triangle they had drawn and measured. How close were they to 0.643? Students immediately noted that there was a problem with the ratios that were over 1 and talked about why.

We continued practicing I can look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning along with Notice and Note to develop the cosine and tangent ratios.

And then we went back to Boat on the River. What are we trying to find? What ratio could we use? How would we know whether the boat made it?

When I cued up the video for Act 3, the students were thrilled to find out they were actually going to get to see whether the boat made it. And at the end, they spontaneously clapped.

Someone asked me in a workshop recently how long a 3-Act takes. There are plenty on which we spend majority of a class period. Or even more than one class period. This one took less than 10 minutes of our lesson, but the payoff is worth more than our whole unit of Right Triangle Trigonometry. It gave us a way to develop the need for trig ratios that my students have just had to trust we need before. For these students, trig ratios don’t just solve right triangles; trig ratios can help with planning trips down the river. Coupled with the formative practice that students got during the next class, Boat on the River helped us balance rigor, one of the key shifts in mathematics called for by CCSS.

And so the journey towards rigor continues … with thanks to Andrew for creating Boat on the River and Mary for blogging about her students’ experience with it and to my students for their enthusiasm about learning which made evident during this lesson through applause.