Students will:

  • understand the relationship of the legs and hypotenuse of triangles and find the hypotenuse and measurement of the legs
  • calculate the angles of a triangle given the missing angle, and/or length of the legs of a triangle
  • use volume and algebraic equations to find missing variables
  • connect these skills to real life and to Medal of Honor values
Middle and High SchoolMathematics, Guidance and Career Counseling

One to Three Class Sessions

Medal of Honor Focus: Leo Thorsness, U.S. Air Force, Vietnam War 

Teacher Preparation:
Students should understand how to find the angles of acute, obtuse, and right angles, square roots, and algebraic equations. This lesson can be used to introduce algebraic equations, how to find the legs and angles of a triangle, or as an extension of either lesson.

Introductory Activity:
Review the concept of different triangles, how to find the length of sides, angles, and algebraic equations. Students should be able to identify the different triangles and how to label the angles and legs as well as how to solve basic algebraic equations.

Whole Group Activity:
Read the Portrait of Valor of Leo Thorsness then watch his Living History Video. After the video, have students do a think-pair-share on the math concepts he would have needed to know in order to do his job. How might his skills have given him the courage to carry out his missions?

Small Group/Individual Activity: Finding a hypotenuse
Give the students either the height (A), ground distance (B), total distance glided (C), or the angles and have students find out the others. Change the lengths/ distance needed to glide for more practice. Why was the ability to calculate a hypotenuse crucial to Thorsness’ survival?

Small Group/Individual Activity: Finding Angles
Using different angles, have students figure out the angle Leo Thorsness would have needed to be at to glide, height needed to be at, angle to land, etc. Change the angles for more practice.

Small Group/Individual Activity: Solving Algebraic Equations and Finding Missing Variables
Have students use algebraic equations to figure out how many ounces of fuel someone would need to go different distances. Adjust the distances needed to travel, the amount of fuel available, and the distance each ounce of fuel can propel a plane forward.

Concluding Activity:
How can math give you courage? Review student answers and discuss why math was so important to Leo Thorsness’ survival. Then have students brainstorm ways in which math is needed for other jobs. Think about how skills can create the confidence to handle challenging situations. Have students write a reflection.

Math equations, reflection

Leo Thorsness’ Living History video and Portrait of Valor

Extended Activities:
Students should talk with their parents about when they use math in their daily lives and look into the ways that math will be needed and useful in their future.

Students should research a career they are considering to discover how math is used in that field. Based on their findings, they should each write a report, including a list of the math classes they would need to succeed in that field.