Academics, Upper School

Students Visualize Calculus Equations

In December, using Desmos, an online graphing calculator, senior calculus students programmed derivative equations to create visual representations of how points move across space.

“I want students to have this experience of observing how points move in space, because it is hard to understand calculus equations in the abstract without seeing motion,” says calculus teacher Mimi Yang. “Desmos allows us to take what we are talking about conceptually and put it into practice and also allows students to be creative."

Working in pairs, the students were required to move at least one point across space. One team created a Super Mario-inspired project, and another created a solar system. In addition to derivative analysis, students studied the chain rule, a formula to calculate the derivative of a composition of functions.

The calculus unit expands on functions such as sine and cosine, which students learned in pre-calculus.

“Last year, students saw these equations mostly confined to a circular motion,” says Mimi. “For the students to see that the same functions can produce wildly different results helps deepen their understanding of how the functions work."