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38

One of the major themes of precalculus is what I call “connecting geometry to algebra”. Being able to translate between an algebraic statement like $f(x)= f(-x)$, and the geometric statement that the graph of $f$ is symmetric about the vertical axis is a great instance of this. This is just one more way to practice reinforcing function concepts, and the ...


32

It's not really a question about functions and domains, but about valid expressions. The question is, "For which real numbers $x$ is the following expression valid/well-defined/well-formed?" So, for example, $\frac{x + 1}{x^2 - 1}$ is valid exactly for $x \notin \{-1, 1\}$, and $\sqrt{x}$ (assuming this notation is established to mean the real-valued square ...


24

Start by talking about functions in general, not only about functions that can be expressed by a simple formula in x and y. Examples: The function that maps every non-empty list to its first element. The function that maps every finite set to its size. The function that maps color names to RGB triples. The function that maps days to sunrise times at a ...


23

You might remind them that $y$ is just a name for a number. When they draw a plot, they draw a bunch of points: maybe $y=3$ here, $y=5$ there, and $y=-2$ over there. But at some point (no pun intended) we want to talk about the entire shape: we want to say that $f$ is symmetric, that $f$ is concave, that $f$ has an asymptote. We can't do that with $y$; ...


20

You should tell them these two main benefits: (1) Function notation is concise! For example, instead of writing "Find $y$ when $x=5$" one can simply write "Find $f(5)$" This becomes very appreciable when dealing with long or complicated problems asking for a lot of information. We also shorten things like this all the time. For instance, instead of writing $...


18

In my experience, the "set of ordered pairs" is a difficult and confusing definition. Moreover, I feel it's almost totally unnecessary because in practice in mathematics we do always treat functions as rules. No one ever defines a function as $f = \{ (x,y) \mid y = x^2 \}$; we always write $f(x)=x^2$. Of course, "rules" in this sense are much more general ...


18

I wanted to provide a different perspective on this. I just recently graduated with an undergraduate degree in mathematics, and I wanted to say a few things about what personally helped me in understanding functions, and why I think introducing them as sets of ordered pairs is important. Before I took my first proofs class, I thought of functions the ...


17

user52817, in the comments, has this exactly right: In the context of Precalculus, the implied domain of a function is the largest subset of $\mathbb{R}$ on which the function is defined. So introduce that notion, and practice it with questions like "What is the implied domain of $f(x)=\sqrt{x}$?" (You can also let your students know that sometimes people ...


16

It seems clear that there is a certain conceptual gap in the student's understanding. My suspicion is that the student is essentially running the following program in his mind: Initialize factorial = 1 For $j = k$ to $1$ factorial = factorial * (2j - 1) Output factorial (The correct program should read: for $j = 2k - 1$ to $1$, factorial = factorial *...


16

The crucial thing the students need to realise is that the (e.g.) $x$ that turns up in the function definition is a bound variable. That's what allows it to be freely renamed or indeed omitted without changing the semantics. Unfortunately, education tends to completely obscure this facet by a) always using the same dumb variable names as if there were a ...


15

Let me give you yet another point of view which is a bit closer to discrete mathematics, that is, from introduction to functional programming. As this course is very function-heavy, it was worth to spend the very first class solely on the basics of functions. Please note that what I describe below builds quite different intuition than that of continuous ...


15

A linear function is not necessarily a first degree polynomial function: zero function is also linear. In France the terminology is more appropriate than the traditional English one: a linear function is a function of the form $f(x) = ax$, while a function of the form $f(x) = ax + b$ is called an affine function. So, strictly speaking, constant functions ...


15

Here you can see that knowing if the function is even or odd can help you when you are integrating over the interval $[-a, a]$. You can reduce really-hard-to-look-at integrals to zero just by knowing this. As an example, to calculate $E(Z)$ where $Z \sim N(0, 1)$, the standard normal distribution, you have: $\displaystyle E(z) = \frac{1}{\sqrt{2\pi}}\int_{-...


15

Because x and y are just variable names It happens that sometimes y=f(x), but other times z=f(x,y), w=f(x,y,z), or x=f(y) for that matter. All of these variable names are syntactically equivalent, and the mere existence of "x" and "y" in an equation does not necessarily connote that "x" is the independent variable and "y" the dependent. Thinking of the ...


14

Learning to think about functions abstractly should be one goal in precalculus, and function symmetry helps. Also suppose we carefully protected a student from knowing anything about function symmetry. Upon learning about flux in vector calculus, would this student be able to quickly see that the flux of the vector field ${\bf F}(x,y,z)= y^2{\bf j}$ through ...


13

As per my comment above, it looks to me like the student saw $2k−1$ which is a pretty standard mathematical way to say "odd numbers" and then saw the factorial and thought to themselves "looks like i need to factorial only the odd numbers". While I have never encountered this particular misconception, I categorize it into a general category of an "illogical ...


12

While I commented otherwise, let me still give an answer which complements others, relates to a more general question, and answers some starting discussion in comments. We often consider, as mathematician, that defining everything very precisely is important, and it truly is. But what is often done, and in my opinion is often a mistake, is to consider that ...


12

Although there are good answers already, I think the ambiguity of the vocabulary is being underestimated. This might be because French definitions have more ambiguity than others, I can't tell. In France, at least up to some years ago, the words function ("fonction") had various meaning depending on the context. In high school (and probably some colleges)...


12

Besides applicability in topics like integration and Fourier analysis, it also connects algebra to calculus at least in the way that multiplication of even/odd functions behaves like addition even/odd numbers: Multiplying two even functions gives an even function. Multiplying two odd functions gives an even function, too. Multiplying an even and an odd ...


11

I think this is a great question because it is really about the ambiguous/confusing way we use the word polynomial. So I want to use the terms "polynomial" and "polynomial function" separately here. A polynomial is an algebraic expression. It consists of variables and coefficients and only uses the operations of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and ...


11

While I haven't done a systematic survey, my impression is that the overwhelming majority of pre-calculus and calculus texts define a linear function to be one of the form $f(x) = mx + b$ with no stipulation that $m \neq 0$. Thus, if you define linear to be a polynomial of degree 1 you are likely to be contradicting whatever textbook you are using. From a ...


11

Even and odd parity are probably the simplest examples of function symmetries. In applied mathematics, the general observation of function symmetries allows to simplify calculations (as stated by others) and to produce more meaningful graphs. In physics, symmetrical parts of a function are sometimes associated to different physical phenomena. Two examples:...


11

How about $f: \mathbb{R} \to \mathbb{R}$ defined by $f(x) = y$ where $y$ is the unique solution to $y^5+x^2y+5=0$? This does not have an elementary formula, but students can understand that for any value of $x$ the function $g(y) = y^5+x^2y+5$ is increasing (and the limits at $\pm \infty$ are $\pm \infty$), so it must have a unique root for each $x$. You ...


11

TL;DR: A function is a verb. It's an action. Variables are nouns, objects. Verbs (functions) connect nouns semantically, i.e. how A (or x) relates to B (or y), how to get from here to there. Long version Some context: I learned maths from my father who was a physics / engineering guy at heart, so everything had to be 'tangible' or 'observable' to him. ...


9

Curiously enough, I wrote a short article about this that has just been published in The Mathematics Teacher (available here, although you may need subscriber access, or access to a library with such access, in order to get the full text). The advantage of this approach is that it requires very little algebra -- and in particular does not require students ...


9

When introducing functions to a student, I usually give thought to two main methods, each with its pros and cons. Method 1: Use the set definition of the function. This is what you're attempting to do at the moment. The set definition of the function states that a function is a relation between a set of inputs and a set of permissible outputs with the ...


9

I might seem picky, but I would first refrain from saying that $\nabla f$ is a vector. It is a vector field. This might be considered a common abuse of vocabulary, but using it amounts to assuming that student can fix it up routinely. The problem you are faced with shows very convincingly they don't. I bet we all have been confronted to someone who, asked ...


8

I think as long as students know that: A function $f:A \to B$ assigns one and only one element of the codomain $B$ to each element of the domain. We write $f(a) = b$ if $a \in A$ is assigned to $b \in B$ by $f$. Two functions $f,g$ are the same if they have the same domain, codomain, and $f(a)=g(a)$ for all $a$ in their common domain. Then there is no ...


8

Exponential growth or decay shows up everywhere in nature: Temperature gradients (like in a hot water flask) Diffusion across a membrane (like in osmosis) Radioactive decay (and use in radiometric dating) Dampening (like of a vibrating string/pipe) Attenuation of a signal through a medium (like visibility in water) Uninhibited population growth (like at the ...


8

In his blog post, "An Argument Against the Real World", Mr. K argues that fictional (even mythical) problems can work better than 'real-world' problems. I think he has a great idea.


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