Riding the Ferris Wheel: A Sinusoidal Model

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Problems, Resources, and Issues in Mathematics Undergraduate Studies (PRIMUS)




When thinking of models for sinusoidal waves, examples such as tides of the ocean, daily temperatures for one year in your town, light and sound waves, and certain types of motion are used. Many textbooks [1, p. 222] also present a “Ferris wheel description problem” for students to work. This activity takes the Ferris wheel problem out of the abstract and has students explore a hands-on model of a sinusoidal scenario. Students will gather data, create their own sinusoidal function, and then verify their results with a calculator. This activity uses an inexpensive hamster wheel that makes it possible for small groups of students to experience the activity, and it takes only one hour of class time. No expensive data collection devices are required. Students also experience working with number of seats as the independent variable instead of time. We have used this activity successfully with high school, college, and in-service and pre-service teachers.