Category Archives: Conic Sections

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

It's the season for NCTM regional conferences, and I'm presenting sessions on conic section construction techniques in both Richmond and Houston this month. For those of you who can't attend, here's a peek at what I'm demonstrating. The 17th-century Dutch mathematician Frans van Schooten developed "hands-on manipulatives" centuries before the term became popular in math education circles. Below … 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 ››

Exploring Conic Sections with Sketchpad

As a student, I didn’t place conic sections on my list of favorite high school topics. The standard textbook treatment of the ellipse, parabola, and hyperbola seemed uninspired. There were messy algebraic equations with multiple square roots. There was lots of terminology. Drawing a conic meant plotting several points on graph paper and connecting them with … Continue Reading ››