Steven Strogatz’s circle area exercise

Saw this really neat tweet from Steven Strogatz yesterday:

I asked him if he had downloadable versions of the circle and he was nice enough to share the templates with me (yay!)

So, with a little enlarging and a little cutting we had the props ready to go through the exercise.

We began with a short conversation about circles. My older son knows lots of formulas about circles from his school’s math team practices, but my younger son doesn’t really know all of the formulas. The quick review here seemed like a good way to motivate Strogatz’s project:

Now we moved into Strogatz’s project – how do we show that the area of a circle is \pi * r^2? We cut the circle into the 16 sectors and rearranged them into a shape that was more familiar to us:

Next was the big challenge and the really neat idea in Strogatz’s first tweet – there is a different shape we can use to find the area. The boys were able to find this triangle fairly quickly, but then we had a really fun discussion about what the triangle would look like if we used more (smaller) sectors. So, the surprising triangle from Strogatz’s tweet led to a really fun and totally unexpected discussion! It is so fun to hear kids think through / wonder about math questions like the one they asked about the new triangles.

The last part of the project today was inspired by a tweet from our friend Alexander Bogomolny that was part of the thread Strogatz’s tweet started on Twitter yesterday:

I love it when Twitter writes our math projects for us šŸ™‚

I had the kids look at the picture and describe what they saw. At the end I asked them why they thought the slanted lines in the triangle were lines and not curves – they had interesting thoughts about this little puzzle:

The amount of great math shared out twitter never ceases to amaze me. Thanks (as always!) to Steven Strogatz and to Alexander Bogomolny for inspiring this project about circles. Can’t wait to try out this project with other kids.

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