Note: Read the first comment I posted which suggests a purely Euclidean geometry approach to this problem...
Don't forget our MathAnagram for Aug-Sept. Thus far we have received a couple of correct responses. You are encouraged to make a conjecture!
Look here for directions. Here is the anagram again:
Tangent problems are usually the domain of calculus but we can keep them within the reach of geometry and algebra if we restrict our attention to circles. The calculus student spends a considerable amount of time solving a wide variety of "tangent to the curve" exercises. As any calculus instructor will tell you, many of the harder problems ask students to determine the equations of the tangent to a curve from a point not on the curve. The issue there is not the calculus. It's all about an understanding of the interface between the algebra and geometry, the essence of coordinate methods. I developed this investigation specifically to address this issue before students enter calculus. Might be another "fun" problem to start the year off with. If nothing else, it will establish the rigor of your precalculus course early on!
Part I of Investigation
Determine the coordinates of the points of tangency for the tangent lines to the unit circle from the point (0,2).
Note: Unit circle refers to the circle of radius 1, center (0,0).
The remaining parts will all refer to this same circle.
Part II of Investigation
Repeat part I for (0,3) and (0,4).
Write your observations, conjectures.
Part III of Investigation
Show that the y-coordinate of the points of tangency for the tangent lines to the unit circle from the point (0,k) is 1/k, where k ≥ 1.
(1) The result of Part III suggests that as k increases, the y-coordinate of the point of tangency decreases (inverse ratio). Ask students what happens as k approaches 1.
Students should make sense of this visually by sketching tangent lines from various points on the y-axis above the circle.
(2) There are several effective methods for solving the above parts, however, one needs to know the fundamental relationship between a tangent line and the radius drawn to the point of tangency. From that point on, one can represent the slope in two ways or represent the y-coordinate of the point of tangent in two ways. This requires strong understanding of coordinates, graphs and algebraic relationships. You may find other methods -- share them! BTW, one could also use trig methods.
(3) I chose the unit circle and a point on the y-axis for simplicity so that the student could focus on essential ideas. However, one could generalize the result to any circle and any point outside. Have fun with that!
(4) Anyone mildly surprised by the reciprocal relationship between the y-coordinate of the point on the y-axis and the y-coordinate of the point of tangency? Can anyone make sense of that?