Unlike the two most “friendly” arithmetic operations, addition and multiplication, exponentiation is not commutative. You will get a different result if you swap the value in the base with the one in the exponent (unless, of course, they are the same value):

3^2 \ne 2^3

The most significant impact of this lack of commutativity arises when you need to solve an equation that involves exponentiation: two different inverse functions are needed, one to undo the exponent (a root), and a different one to undo the base (a logarithm).

Just as there are many versions of the addition function (adding 2, adding 5, adding 7.23, etc.), and many versions of the “root” function (square roots, cube roots, etc.),  there are also many versions of the “logarithm” function. Each version has a “base”, which corresponds to the base of its inverse exponential expression.

Inverse Functions: Logarithms & Exponentials

Logarithms are labelled with a number that corresponds to the base of the exponential that they undo. For example, the Continue reading Logarithms

Function Dilations: How to recognize and analyze them

This post explores one type of function transformation: “dilation”. If you are not familiar with “translation”, which is a simpler type of transformation, you may wish to read Function Translations: How to recognize and analyze them first.

A function has been “dilated” (note the spelling… it is not spelled or pronounced “dialated”) when it has been stretched away from an axis or compressed toward an axis.

Imagine a graph that has been drawn on elastic graph paper, and fastened to a solid surface along one of the axes. Now grasp the elastic paper with both hands, one hand on each side of the axis that is fixed to the surface, and pull both sides of the paper away from the axis. Doing so “dilates” the graph, causing all points to move away from the axis to a multiple of their original distance from the axis. As an example of this, consider the following graph:

Vertical Dilation (no Translation)

The graph above shows a function before and after a vertical dilation. The coordinates of two Continue reading Function Dilations: How to recognize and analyze them

Interactive Graphs for Exponential and Logarithmic Functions

A few more interactive GeoGebra applets have been added to my collection.

Each of these graphs the function indicated in the name, with parameters that you can adjust using sliders. As you move a slider, you can watch how that parameter affects the graph of the function, and see what the resulting function definition looks like.

Each of these pages also has a set of questions following the grapher that are intended to lead students through the process of playing with and considering  the effect of each constant on the graph (without giving away too much, hopefully…).

Life Skills Learned In Math Class

One of the hardest questions for many math teachers to answer in a way that is relevant to students is: “why do I need to know this?”  “For the next course you take”, the easiest answer in many cases, does not answer the question that was usually being asked. My answers to this question obviously depend on the topic being studied at moment, and I don’t have “good” answers for all topics…  but here is my list of key life skills I learned directly or indirectly from math class, with Continue reading Life Skills Learned In Math Class