More Calculus Fun with Series

Many many thanks to the wonderful Mike Thayer (@mthayer_nj) who sent a link to this lovely video in response to yesterday’s post.

We started each Calc BC class today by revisiting the rational function that caused me so many problems yesterday. Innocently enough, I decided that it would be interesting to examine 1/(1-x) first by long division where the divisor is 1 – x and we got the power series 1 + x + x^2 + x^3 + … as the quotient. Then, we used -x + 1 as the divisor and got the series -1/x – 1/x^2 – 1/x^3 – 1/x^4 … as our quotient. Class ended too soon and I was not able to answer the question of how we could consider these two very different looking series as being equal to each other since they were each results of considering the rational function 1/(1-x).

So, after sending out my call for wisdom in yesterday’s post I went to GeoGebra and discovered something lovely. Something that I was sure my students would be able to discover for themselves. I created a GGB file and I planned our day today. Can I tell you how proud I am of my students for how they handles today? Well, I won’t wait for your permission, I will just come out and tell you how thrilled I am.

I started the day by quickly revisiting yesterday’s two division results and then I called up the GGB file with only the rational function showing. They saw that I had each of the other two series expressions typed in already (out to x^5 for each) and I asked them which of the two they wanted to see first. My morning class wanted to see the series with x as the ratio first, my after lunch class wanted to see the one with the ratio of 1/x first. In each case, after unveiling the function of choice and noticing the relationship between the rational function and this new series expansion my students made the following observations:

  1. The graphs only seem to match over a certain set of x values
  2. If I were to add more terms, that match would improve
  3. If we look at the graphs of both series then we will have a nearly complete match to the graph of the rational function

What my students realized – what I realized last night – is that the two series we can generate have completely opposite intervals of convergence. It was absolutely lovely to see geogebra help this intuition along and it was fantastic that they made this realization before seeing the second graph to confirm it.

After this breakthrough we watched the video together and all of our brains were a bit achy by the end. Amazing that Mike found/knew this link so quickly when I blogged last night.

Some other notes – A student in my after lunch class made this observation about the complementary nature of the intervals of convergence before we even looked at geogebra. I gave one last example, f(x)= x^3/(x+5) and the student who was bothered by -1 = 1 + 2 + 4 + … quickly converted x + 5 into a form of 1 – r so we could interpret the rational function as an infinite geometric series. Another student converted it to x^2/(1 + 5/x) and we, once again, had two different series’ that had complementary intervals of convergence. I have taught this course five or six years before this and never had this ‘discovery’ pop up. Now, we cannot avoid it. It provides a wonderful context for our upcoming conversations about Taylor series and it gives us the opportunity to be more aware of convergence expectations. A pretty great day!

A Calculus Conundrum

Today we returned to school after a too long two week spring break and in Calculus BC we are beginning to engage with power series ideas. I decided to borrow and modify an exercise in our teacher resources binder. The text presents a definition of a power series and draws comparisons between them and geometric series. I decided to present four series examples and four answer choices – A) Geometric Series  B) Power Series   C) Both  D) Neither. My idea was to show the answers without the definition first and draw out a definition from those clues. That part of class worked pretty well. Then I dipped into turning a rational function (f(x) = 1/(1-x)) into a power series with a brief discussion of why we would even want to do such a thing. I showed them that this function is equal to 1 + x + x^2 + x^3 + … in three different ways. But before I could launch into this conversation I was challenged by one of my very talented students. He said that this equation could only be true if -1 < x < 1. I replied that this was a condition for convergence of an infinite geometric series but I did not want to wander into a conversation (yet) about radius of convergence so I tried to put off that conversation. To his credit he asked me to explain the equation if x had the value of 2 which would then mean that -1 = 1 + 2 + 4 + 8 + …  I did my best to congratulate this observation while still holding off a bit on talking about the radius of convergence.

So, I showed the comparison to the sum formula for an infinite geometric series and then I multiplied each side of the above equation by the denominator 1 – x showing that the series on the right telescopes into 1. Then I got myself in trouble. I did a long division to show that 1 / (1-x) expands into the infinite series. However, when I was writing notes to myself earlier int he morning I thought that my students would question why I was writing the divisor in the form 1 – x. Students are SO used to seeing expressions in a more standard form of -x + 1, so I also did the long division that way. Well, the result of the long division is pretty radically different. Instead of 1 + x + x^2 + x^3 + … the result is now -1/x – 1/(x^2) – 1/(x^3) -… I was pretty surprised by this and I thought that it was important to share this surprising difference. Well, I would have felt better about that decision if we had had about 5 more minutes to talk. Instead we were faced with the end of class and my students asked if these two drastically different expressions should be considered identical.

I conferred with another calculus teacher at my school and he was pretty surprised/intrigued by this conversation and pressed me a bit on why I wanted to open that door of rewriting the division. He also pointed out – as I should have – that the second response is not a power series since it has negative exponents. If I had pointed that out before class dismissed I would have felt better about our conversation. I need to do some thinking about how to talk about this tomorrow. Hey internet – any words of wisdom about this?

We Broke Graphing Technology Again – A Success Story

In AP Calculus BC we are doing some pretty unexciting stuff right now – techniques of integration. The problems are (sort of) fun little algebraic puzzles but I find little room for conceptual conversations. Maybe I am just missing something obvious. But today was a bit of a revelation and I wish I knew better how to try and insert equations to tell the story. I’ll just have to use some tortured syntax to get my point across. I put up three pairs of integrals and told them that one in each pair was something they knew how to do before they met me (our school does BC as a second-year calculus course) while the second was one they needed my help with. I had an integration by parts example side by side with a boring old u substitution (the integrands were x cos(x^2)  versus x cos x) and they knew which one they COULD do and we talked through integration by parts. I had a partial fraction problem side by side with a  natural log problem (the integrands were (x – 2)/(x^2 – 4x + 3) versus (x + 1)/(x^2 – 4x + 3)) and again they knew the difference and we talked about partial fractions. I had a trig substitution problem against a boring old square root (this time it was sqrt (9 – x) versus sqrt (9 – x^2)) Then someone asked me a HW problem. They were asked to integrate the fifth power of tangent x. I took off writing and trying to get buy in at each of the many steps. I told them at the end that they knew each of the steps they just did not know which direction to move. I assured them that this was a process they would master with a bit of practice. As I was working, I made the decision to substitute for sec x and set up the answer in terms of that function. A student asked me why he could not use tangent to substitute. I did not have a bunch of time left so I asked him to hold his thought and talk to me at the end. He did. As a result, I made a document we’ll examine as a class on Monday comparing his solution and mine. You can grab that here I went through with math type to show his solution and mine. I’ll leave it to the students to determine why they look different and I hope they come to the conclusion that they are NOT different. To help push the conversation I created a Desmos graph and a GeoGebra graph to show my function (called d(x) in each case) and my students function (called j(x)) in each case, I will erase the f(x) that you can see by following these links because I don’t want to give the game away immediately. What troubled me was that each program dealt with my function and my student’s function just fine. When I combined them the graphing technology broke. I tweeted out to @desmos and received – as usual – a quick and helpful reply. In this case, the reply was simply ‘Thanks for sharing. This will help us make better graphs for the future.’ This is the second time this year that we have found a little glitch and I could not be more pleased with the response I have gotten each time. It is such a great way to emphasize to my students what a connected world we’re living in and how they can reach out and find help. My student said he spent a half an hour trying to figure out why his answer was ‘wrong’ since it disagreed with his text’s answer. I hope after Monday that he will begin to internalize the idea that he can check his answers in pretty powerful ways. Ways that I did not dream of when I was learning this stuff in 1982. What a fun fun experience seeing his work and getting the reply I did from Desmos. Add in the fact that I get a date with my wife at a local farm to table restaurant and the day could not get much better.

Trolling for Ideas

We have started a STEM initiative at our school. I am hoping to gain some traction for a conversation centered on a joint Physics/Calculus curriculum. We have two courses in place at our school that are joint teacher operations.  We have a course called Seminar that is co-taught by our history and english department chairs. We also have a course called Creative Spirit co taught by a studio art teacher and our music director. So, we have the vision in our school to create courses that break the mold a bit. I would love to try and launch a course combining physics and calculus ideas. I am certain that there are schools where such a program exists and I would love to have some curricular conversations along these lines. Anyone out there with ideas they’d love to share?



So, we are almost done with our deep and quick tour of AB topics in my BC class. We use the Stewart text which has an interesting section at the end of each chapter. The section is called Problems Plus and I have been browsing through these sections for class examples. On Friday I picked a problem that looked pretty challenging. The set up is this – Imagine a square region with sides measuring two units. In the square a region is shaded. This region is the set of all points that are closer to the center of the square than to the nearest side. What is the area of this region? I did not try this problem first, I had confidence that we could work our way through it. In each of my two sections this was the second problem of the day. Each group dispensed with the first problem in about 5 minutes. Each class spent almost 40 minutes discussing/debating/arguing over this square problem. What thrilled me was that both classes (the small morning class of 8 and the large afternoon class of 18) stayed engaged offering ideas, questioning each other, thinking about circles, etc. We looked at GeoGebra to try and sketch some regions. We thought about the distance formula and circles since the kids were convinced that the region where the distance to the center and the side was equal would be somehow circular in nature. None of our ideas came to find a final solution. To me, this fact is SO tiny in comparison to the fact that they fought, they were engaged, and some of the afternoon kids stayed after to share new insights. I am so proud of this group for being willing to engage and not being at all angry or visibly annoyed when we did not come to a solution. I can’t wait until Monday to see what ideas they bring to the table.