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Topic: Why trig?
Replies: 21   Last Post: Apr 3, 1997 4:17 PM

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Jack Roach

Posts: 177
Registered: 12/6/04
Re: Why trig?
Posted: Apr 1, 1997 11:32 AM
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On Tue, 1 Apr 1997, Don Coleman wrote:

> >From Jack Roach:
> > So far, every example given either has nothing to do with an application
> > of trigonometry to a "real-life" probem or else it's of the form, "Trust
> > me, kids. It's used to build atomic bombs." Out here in the "real world"
> > folks do not spend a lot of time calculating the heights of various flag
> > poles. This may not be clear to Mr. Price but it is to students.
> >
> > Jack
> >
> >

Jack Price wrote that during the 1970s:

"As educators we did not show students real-life applications of
mathematics and therefore did not answer the question on many students'
minds, `When will I ever use this stuff?'"

I cannot say with certainty what Mr. Price had in mind but I suspect we
would all agree that by "real-life applications of mathematics," it is
likely that he meant applications which are routine and essentially
necessary in solving problems a significant percentage of the students
could reasonably be expected to encounter at some future date.

> I thought the example of getting a computer to draw a circle
> is pretty practical.

I'm not so sure that it's all that "practical" but in any case, the way
it's usually done makes no real use of trigonometry.

> There has been mention of solving problems
> about triangles of one sort of another also. Is this not real
> world?

Can you name a place where it's done? (Contrary to a common myth, it is
_not_ done in navigation.)

I thought it was still an open question whether teaching
> is more effective using real world problems or just plain
> interesting problems. (Don't ask me "what is interesting?")

This may be so but first I would like to see a few examples of "real-
life applications of mathematics" as outlined above which a student
could understand at the time he was taking the course to which the
example relates.

> It is quite a daring thing to throw out as obsolete a subject
> so thoroughly embedded in mathematics as trigonometry.

Not just daring. Plain stupid.

> Indeed,
> to have to argue that trig is useful in practical problems is
> similar to having to argue that a hammer is a useful tool for
> a carpenter.

I agree but does Jack Price?


> Don
> --
> Don Coleman | (606) 277-7678 (Home)
> Mathematics Dept | 257-4802 (Office)
> University of Kentucky | 257-4078 (Fax)
> Lexington, KY 40506-0027 | email:

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