Why Do We Memorize the Unit Circle?

Let me preface this blog post by saying I teach a “lower-track” Alg 2/Trig class. (The school tries to spin it as “we have many options for math classes, blah, blah, blah, so that students can be successful”, which is great, but it’s also silly not to call it what it is.) Almost all of my students are seniors, and the average student is going to a 2-year college. Some will go to a 4-year college. They’ve got a lot of potential, but they’re not particularly motivated by academics.

So keep in mind I’m thinking of my students, not a group of juniors in Pre-Calculus who will take Calculus AB next year; however I think the following question applies to those students as well.

Why do we make students memorize the unit circle?

Isn’t it more important to understand what the unit circle is? Memorizing a few selected values didn’t help with conceptual knowledge of the unit circle, and I ultimately felt like I was making them memorize it simply because I could. And then I could give them a quiz. I almost feel dirty about it because instead of making sure they actually know what the unit circle is and why it works, I had them memorize a bunch of numbers.

I love trig and love teaching trig, but I’m not sure memorizing the unit circle is helping any of my students actually learn trig.

Any feedback is appreciated! Thanks!

 

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Filed under FST / Algebra 2, trig

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