The Synergistic Dynamics of Art, Mathematics, & Science
An Interdisciplinary Project at Stowe Middle School
[&copyFrederick David Abraham, project contributors, and sources]

Mathematical Construction of Spirals: Polar Coordinate System

If you look at polar graph paper (example), you see concentric circles (circles within circles), and lines radiating out from the center. We can think of this as related to the face of a clock. The hands of a clock sweep clockwise around the face. The change in the angle of the hands can be measured in different ways, but the most familiar way is to say that one revolution around the clock takes 360°, so the angle is measured in degrees (°).

·        Exercise 1: On an ordinary clock showing 12 hours, how many degrees does the minute hand go through in one hour? In two hours? In three hours?

·        Exercise 2: On an ordinary clock showing 12 hours, how many degrees does the hour hand go through in 5 minutes? In 10 minutes? In 15 minutes? For a 24 hr clock, what would the answers be?

The usual convention (way of doing things) is to call the three o'clock position zero, and go around counter-clockwise. Note that our graph paper is labelled both ways, for counting either clockwise or counter-clockwise.

·        Exercise 3. At what positions are the numbers for clockwise and counter-clockwise the same? That is, how many degrees are there, and where are they located on the circle, going clockwise and counter-clockwise at the same time, to have the degrees travelled be the same? That is similar to asking the question when two people leave the same spot, at the same time, in Vermont, one going exactly north, the other going exactly south, how far will they have gone, and through how many degrees willhave travelled, when they meet again. Also after they pass each other, when they get back home? Will they be tired? How much of their trip will be in cross-country skiis, how much in kayaks, and will it be the same for both of them?

·        Exercise 4. If the longest radial lines (radiating out from the center) on the graph paper are spaced every 10°, how many of them are there in the 360° circle?

·        Exercise 5. How many degrees does it take to go 1/4 of the way around the circle? 1/2 way? 3/4 way?

·        Exercise 6. On a globe or polar map of the earth, what countries does the 0°, 90°, 180°, and 270° longitudinal lines go through?

So far we have been considering how to measure angles. Now lets look at the distance from the center. The circles are placed evenly. That is, there are 10 circles (on our graph paper), and the distance between them remains constant; the distance between rings 2 and 3 are the same as between rings 9 and 10. We don't care what you call these units of distance since they are not exact in either U. S. Customary Units (actually one unit on our graph paper is about .33 inch) or the metric system (one unit on our graph paper is about 8.5 millimeters-mm or .85 centimeters-cm).

Other Places To Go

Ex. 1-12


of Spirals

of Spirals

Defs Rel
to Spirals

Index Page

Index Page

Created: 12/23/96 Updated: 1/11/97; 3/16/2010