Engaging students: Defining a function of one variable

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 Phuong Trinh. Her topic, from Algebra: defining a function of one variable.

green line

How have different cultures throughout time used this topic in their society?

The understanding of functions is crucial in the study of both math and science. Not only that, some functions, especially function with one variable, are often used by everyone in their daily life.  For example, a person wants to buy some cookies and a cake. The person will need to figure how much it will cost them to buy a cake and however many cookies they want. If the cost of the cake is $12, and the price for each cookie is $1.50, the person can set up a function of one variable to find the total cost for any number of cookies, expressed as c. The function can be written as f(c) = 1.50c + 12. With this function, the person can substitute any number of cookies and find out how much they would spend for the cookies and cake. Aside from the situation given by this example, function with one variable can also be used in various different scenarios.

green line

What interesting (i.e., uncontrived) word problems using this topic can your students do now? (You may find resources such as http://www.spacemath.nasa.gov to be very helpful in this regard; feel free to suggest others.)

Function with one variable can be used in many real life situations. Word problems can be derived from every day scenarios that the students can relate to.

Problem 1: John is transferring his homework files into his flash drive. This is the formula for the size of the files on John’s drive S (measured in megabytes) as a function of time t (measured in seconds): S (t) = 3t + 25

How many megabytes are there in the drive after 10 seconds?

This problem allows the students to get familiar with the function notation as well as letting the students work with a different variable other than x.

Problem 2: (Found at https://www.vitutor.com/calculus/functions/linear_problems.html )

“A car rental charge is $100 per day plus $0.30 per mile travelled. Determine the equation of the line that represents the daily cost by the number of miles travelled and graph it. If a total of 300 miles was travelled in one day, how much is the rental company going to receive as a payment?”

Besides giving the students practice with finding a solution from a function, this problem let the students practice setting up the equation. This also shows the students’ understanding of the subject.


green line

How can technology (YouTube, Khan Academy [khanacademy.org], Vi Hart, Geometers Sketchpad, graphing calculators, etc.) be used to effectively engage students with this topic?

There are multiple resources that can be used to help the students understand what a function is as well as how they should approach a problem with function. One of the resources can be found at coolmath.com. The layout of the website makes it easy to locate the topic of “Functions” under the “Algebra” tab. By comparing a function with a box, Coolmath defines a function in a way that can be easily understood by students, while also showing how a function can be thought of as visually. The site also provides the explanation for function notation with visuals and examples that are easy to understand. On Coolmath, the students will also have the chance to practice with randomly generated questions. They can also check their answers afterward. On other hands, the site also provides definitions and explanations to other ideas such as domain and range, vertical line tests, etc. Overall, coolmath.com is great to learn for students in and out of the classroom, as well as before and after the lesson.





“Linear Function Word Problems.” Inicio, www.vitutor.com/calculus/functions/linear_problems.html.

“Welcome to Coolmath.” Cool Math – Free Online Cool Math Lessons, Cool Math Games & Apps, Fun Math Activities, Pre-Algebra, Algebra, Precalculus, www.coolmath.com/algebra/15-functions.






Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.