Category Archives: Conic Sections

Tweaking the Expanding Circle Construction

In last month's blog post, I described a parabola construction technique dating back to the work of Persian polymath  Ibn Sina  (c. 970 – 1037). After I published the post, my colleague Scott noted that my construction could be more robust to allow for parabolas that are downward facing as well as upward facing. … Continue Reading ››

The Expanding Circle Construction

There can never be enough conic-section construction techniques—at least that's my philosophy, having grown up to think that conics existed purely in the realm of algebraic equations. So to continue my conic section construction series on Sine of the Times, I'll present a parabola construction attributed to Ibn Sina (Avicenna), a Persian polymath (c. 970 – … Continue Reading ››

A Trio of Parabola Constructions

In my prior blog posts, I've presented methods for constructing ellipses  using Web Sketchpad and paper folding. The other conic sections are feeling a bit left out, so let's explore some techniques for constructing parabolas. All three Web Sketchpad models below (and here) are based on the distance definition of a parabola: The set of … Continue Reading ››

The Folded Circle Construction

Of all the conic section construction techniques, my favorite is undoubtedly the approach that requires nothing more than a paper circle. Here's what to do: Draw or print a circle and its center, point A, on a sheet of paper. Cut out the circle. Mark a random point B anywhere on the circle. Then, fold … Continue Reading ››

Constructing an Ellipse with Web Sketchpad Tools

In a prior blog post, I described the pins-and-string approach to drawing an ellipse: Press two pins into a corkboard, place a loop of string around the pins, pull the string tight with a pencil, and trace the pencil tip's path as you pull the pencil around the taut string. Guaranteeing that the traced … Continue Reading ››

A Quartet of Ellipse Constructions

The 17th-century Dutch mathematician Frans van Schooten developed "hands-on manipulatives" centuries before the term became popular in math education circles. Below are two images of ellipse-drawing linkages from van Schooten's manuscript, Sive de Organica Conicarum Sectionum in Plano Descriptione, Tractatus (A Treatise on Devices for Drawing Conic Sections). Continue Reading ››

Danny’s Ellipse

In the early 1990s, Danny Vizcaino, a high school student at Monte Vista High School in California, wrote to Key Curriculum Press noting that Sketchpad did not come with a tool to draw an oval. Undaunted by this omission, Danny had built his own oval with the software and shared it with Key's editors. As shown in the interactive … Continue Reading ››