Sunday, August 21, 2016

Calculus: From Secant Lines to the Tangent

Our semester began on Monday. I'm teaching Calculus I (as always, because it's my favorite class), Statistics, and Algebra for Statistics. All three classes were a joy to teach this week, even though I was a bit underprepared because of the chaos in my personal life.

On Thursday I was working on wrapping up the exercise from Active Calculus that the students had been working on since Tuesday. I showed the velocity curve we'd been exploring on Desmos, and limited the domain to the appropriate times, 0 to 3 seconds (which I learned how to do with the face project I described in my previous blog post). I had a little trouble remembering how to make a secant line attached to one stable point and one moving point, but I got it. (And helped the students get it. This took some hard thinking for many of them.)

Then I had a wonderful surprise. When I pulled the moving point over the stable point, the line disappeared and Desmos said "x= undefined or undefined" (not sure where their stutter came from...). I gasped. I hadn't expected that, and it was a perfect way to start talking about this problem calculus has of needing two points to figure slope, but needing to use just one point from the function in order to have a tangent. I got to talk about Newton and Bishop Berkeley and fluxions and infinitely close. It was great fun for me. On Monday I'll find out how much the students got out of it.

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