Engaging students: Computing inverse functions

In my capstone class for future secondary math teachers, I ask my students to come up with ideas for engaging their students with different topics in the secondary mathematics curriculum. In other words, the point of the assignment was not to devise a full-blown lesson plan on this topic. Instead, I asked my students to think about three different ways of getting their students interested in the topic in the first place.

I plan to share some of the best of these ideas on this blog (after asking my students’ permission, of course).

This student submission again comes from my former student Carissa Birdsong. Her topic, from Algebra: computing inverse functions.

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How can this topic be used in your students’ future courses in mathematics or science?

When students are learning any algorithm in math, it helps keep their interest if they know what this can be possibly used for in the future. In pre-calculus, students need to find the inverse of cosine, sine, tangent, etc. to find certain angles. In order to grasp the students’ attention, the teacher can show videos of bottle rockets being shot off at different angles. Then the teacher will explain that in order to find most of these angles, one must use the inverse property. Then the teacher can go into depth of how to find the inverse of a function. But, the students must understand that using inverse to find angle measurements will not happen in this curriculum, but in future classes such as pre-calculus, trigonometry and physics.


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How could you as a teacher create an activity or project that involves your topic?


Human Representation of Inverse Function

  1. Move the desks to the sides of the room, making a big open space in the middle.
  2. Assign each student a partner.
  3. Have a strip of tape down the middle of the room prior to class. Have the students line up facing their partner with the strip of tape in between them.
  4. Have the side on the “right” be side A and the side on the “left” be side B. (The teacher will choose which side is the right or left, depending on where the front of the classroom is)
  5. Side A will pick a position to stand in (the teacher must monitor to make sure the students are being appropriate). The students are encouraged to change their face, arms, head, etc. to pick the most creative position possible.
  6. Now side B will mimic their specific partner on side A.
  7. Once the students have locked in their position, the teacher will point out that side B is reflective of side A. Therefore, side B is the inverse function of A.

*Make sure that the students understand that side B is not doing the exact same thing that side A is doing, but the opposite, the reflection. The inverse of a function “undoes” the function itself. If someone were to take away side A, and bring in a new crop of people to reflect side B, it should be EXACTLY what side A had done. The inverse of the inverse of a function must take you back to the original function.

*After the teacher teaches how to find the inverse of a function, and can elaborate on the graphing of each function, he or she can refer back to this activity and show that there is an invisible line between the function and the inverse function, making clear that they reflect each other, just as the students did.


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How has this topic appeared in pop culture (movies, TV, current music, video games, etc.)?

Even though most students probably haven’t seen Top Secret, they will probably appreciate watching any sort of movie or television during class. In the making of Top Secret, the actors film a scene walking backwards and saying lines in reverse order. In the movie, this scene is played in reverse, so they look like they were just speaking gibberish and walking forward. They did this so Val Kilmer can do cool tricks like throw a book on the top shelve and slide up a pole.

The teacher could show his or her class the original scene, straight from the movie.

Then ask, “How do you think the actors did this?” “What language are they speaking?” Hopefully a student will catch on fast and say that they just filmed it backwards. Then the teacher can show the scene played forwards.

These two scenes are inverse each other. Going from the beginning to the end of one takes you to the beginning of the other. And going from the beginning to the end of the other, takes you to the beginning of one. Most functions have an inverse function. This means there is a function that is reverse of its inverse. This does NOT mean that the inverse of a function is just the original backwards (i.e. y=3+x and x+3=y). The function of f has the input x and the output y, whereas the inverse of the function f has the input y and the output x.







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