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Physics Skills Mini-Lessons: Trigonometry Skills

Getting ready for your first physics class? Check out the two mini-lessons below that lay the foundation for the trigonometry scenarios you will find in an introductory physics class. The first mini-lesson focuses on right triangle trigonometry. This includes utilizing sine, cosine, and tangent functions as well as the Pythagorean theorem. The more you practice solving for the legs of the right triangle, or the hypotenuse and its angle, the more it will become second nature. And that is what we want! Become comfortable with the trigonometry skills now so you can focus on the physics concepts that accompany them later.

Unfortunately, you are going to deal with more than just right triangles. Non-right triangles, or oblique triangles, typically require the use of the law of sines and/or the law of cosines.

Believe it or not, sometimes the law of sines and the law of cosines are not the most useful method for dealing with non-right triangle scenarios depending on the type of problem you are trying to solve. It may be helpful to view non-right triangles as a combination of hypotenuses from individual right triangles. This may sound confusing at first, but it becomes a very helpful method when dealing with vectors in physics. Vectors will be discussed in a later skills workshop and are based on the trigonometry skills that you are developing now.

For trigonometry practice to help prepare you for your first year physics class, sign up for the Trigonometry Skills Workshop (part of the Physics Skills Summer Series) or sign up for a tutoring session focusing on trigonometry.

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