Quadrilaterals – a Christmas journey – part 1

It all started with an aside in a blog post in which the author said how
some students have a real problem with statements such as “A square is a

From early years kids naturally like exclusive definitions, and have to be weaned off this. This would be easier if we were more careful with the word “is”. Even to me the statement ” a square is a rhombus” sounds weird, if not actually wrong. It would be better to be less brutal, and say “a square is also a rhombus” (and all the other such statements).
Even better, and quite mathematical, is the phrasing “a square is a special case of a rhombus”, as the idea of special cases is very important, and usually overlooked.
It is odd that the classification of triangles is done entirely with adjectives and the difficulty is thus avoided (but see later).
After fighting with a Venn Diagram I did a tree diagram to show the relationships:

quadrilaterals 1 pic

I then got thinking about the words “triangle”, “quadrilateral”, “pentagon” etcetera.

“triangle” : three angles
“quadrilateral” : four sides
“pentagon” and the rest : … angles
The odd one out is the quadrilateral.
Take a look:
It consists of four line segments, AB, BD, DC and CA

Let us see what the full extended lines look like:
Let ab be the name for the full line through A and B
Likewise ac, bd and dc
Then we can see that the quadrilateral is determined by the points of intersection of the two pairs of lines ab,cd and ac,bd.

ab and cd meet at point E; ac and bd meet at point F
But if we consider the four lines then there are three ways of pairing them up. The two others are ab,ac with bd,cd and ab,bd with ac,cd.
This gives us two more quadrilaterals, and they all have the property that each side falls on one only of the four lines.
The three quadrilaterals are ABCD, FCEB and FDEA
ABCD is convex, FCEB is twisted and FDEA is not convex (concave at A)
Not only that, but also the first two are fitted together to give the third one.
This arrangement is called the “complete quadrilateral”, and has four lines and six points.

More next time.


1 Comment

Filed under abstract, education, geometry, language in math

One response to “Quadrilaterals – a Christmas journey – part 1

  1. solmsted

    Great post – I really appreciate your consideration of how these classifications can be more clearly explained to children. “A square is a special case of a rhombus”… yes! this is a much more generous explanation than just leaving it as “a square is a rhombus.” I think sometimes math can come across as brutal and unforgiving – but you make it sound kind. Thanks for the reminder.

My wordpress emails suddenly disappeared last night ??????

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s