Confirming Answers with Graphing Software

I added two components to a lesson task on rational equations. The first was an idea called Hint Cards which I discussed in a previous post. The second one was having students use Desmos to confirm numerical answers that they found algebraically. This lesson is worth sharing, because of what I discovered that the students didn’t know how to do and what they learned from the activity.

The students had just completed the  Optimum Bait Company task. I gave them 5 minutes to check their answers with Desmos. Mathematically speaking, they needed to confirm that for the equation, , the following were true:

  • C(1000) = 4.45
  • C(4000) = 1.3, C(8000) = 0.775, C(12000) = 0.6 and C(42000) = 0.26
  • The horizontal asymptote is y = 0.25
  • C(5600) = 1

I was struck by how utterly stumped they were on using a graph to check these answers, even though they possessed all the prerequisite knowledge necessary. They understood the context of their answers (The average production cost of 1000 lures is $4.45). They knew how to find a y-value from a graph given the x-value (C(1000) = 4.45). They also were experienced at graphing equations with Desmos (y = (4200 + 0.25x)/x), and they knew how to establish a domain and range for axis in context. While my students had each of these four connected skills, they were missing the connection between them all, so I embraced the teachable moment.

I started with the basic idea that the equation we need to graph was the one for the average cost:  C(x) = (4200 + 0.25x)/x. A major problem faced them, though, when they first graphed this equation… they couldn’t see the rational function in the default window.

Bait Desmos Blank

So my next move with the class, was to use the numeric results to determine the domain and range. The range was simple since we all of the monetary answers were between 0 and $5.00. The domain needed a bit more discussion because the one value of 42000 lures compressed the graph so significantly that the class thought it better to leave it out of the visible domain, so we agreed upon 0 < x < 13000.

Bait Desmos Window

From here I could have just traced with finger along the screen to show where a point with a value of x would be located on the curve, but I wanted to tie in the writing of horizontal and vertical equations, and solutions of systems. Therefore, I had the students enter the additional equation of x = 1000, and click on the point of intersection.

Bait Desmos 1K

The students were getting happier and more confident so we kept rolling by entering a table with the additional increasing values of x, representing the number of lures.

Bait Desmos Table

The table confirmed the students answers and supported their common response that the values were approaching a limit of 25 cents. This appealed to their sense of context that the cost per lure could not drop below the original 25 cents per lure. That made for an easy connection to the finding the horizontal asymptote of the rational function for which the degree of the numerator and denominator are equal, which in this case was also 0.25. So we graphed this as an asymptote. It turns out that it was easier to see how closely the curve approached the asymptote if we temporarily increased our visible domain to the 42000 lures.

Bait Desmos Asymptote

Finally, we entered the equation y = 1 in order to see the number of lures required to drive the average cost down to $1 a lure.

Bait Desmos 1 Dollar

This serendipitous exercise was amazingly productive for reinforcing understanding of graphing in general, as well as the connection between numerical values, algebraic formulas and context.

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