The children understand that sin, cos, and tan are side ratios. The children! They understand! They are not making ridiculous mistakes, and they can answer deeper understanding questions like, "Explain why sin(11) = cos(79)." I think right triangle trig is a frequent victim of the "First ya do this, then ya do this" treatment -- where kids can solve problems but have no idea what is going on. There's often not a ton of time for it, and it responds well to memorized procedures (in the short term). So, if your Day One of right triangle trig involves defining sine, cosine, and tangent, read on! I have a better way, and it doesn't take any longer.
First, build on what students have already learned about similar triangles. Ideally, this unit immediately follows that one. On Day One, I assign each pair of students an angle. (You guys have 20 degrees. You all have 25. etc etc, all around the room, so each pair of students is responsible for a different angle.) They work through this document (docx pdf), using Geogebra to do the measuring. They write down the length of the side opposite and adjacent their angle, for triangles of five different sizes. It's important that they write down the lengths, divide them with a calculator, and experience surprise and wonder why they are all exactly the same. (Geogebra made this soooo much better and easier than when I did this with rulers and protractors. So much better. In fact, one of my Matt colleagues basically deserves a medal for all the times he's said "Why don't we just do this with Geogebra?" this year.)
On this day, they just do opposite/adjacent ratio, share the ratio for their angle in a shared spreadsheet, and then everyone has access to the shared spreadsheet (an opp/adj-only trig table) to solve some problems (in that same document). The thing is, they are figuring out how to use what they have learned to solve the problems; they're not just repeating a procedure that was demonstrated. This took one 45-minute period, including checking Chromebooks out and in. I collect the sheets and look for students who had a strategy for #11 (how to solve when the variable is in the bottom of the ratio) so they can share their strategy next class.
Next two classes, I provide them with a table of all three ratios (to tape in their notebook) for angles of 5-degree increments, and they work their way through this page with appropriate help. For example, in the first set of problems, I just had them label the sides first. Then choose the ratio for all the problems, then solve for an answer. This particular document is not terribly pretty, because I had limited time to put it together. In every class, someone wanted to know why they couldn't use like hyp/adj if that equation was easier to solve. For those that asked, I pointed out that we couldn't look up hyp/adj in the table, BUT, they could use the other angle in the triangle. (And yes I'm aware they could use 1-over the ratio in the table, but that seemed like an overly complicated strategy to suggest.) I gave them a few find-sides and find-angles problems (limited to the angles in their table) to practice for homework. They did not all get to the back, but the kids to catch on/work quicker had something to do after the basic problems.
Today I spilled the beans that these ratios have special names, and we could look them up in our calculator. We mostly spent the period getting used to looking stuff up in the calculator including some hot Plickr action, and working on these problems which they are finishing for homework. I told them they only had to do one "Explain why," but they had to complete all the rest.
Tomorrow on our block day, we are going to go outside and figure out the heights of some really tall things (docx pdf). There are lots of "measuring tall things" activities out there, but I heavily adapted this document, so thanks to Christopher Conrad for posting it.