I’m enjoying thinking about how to share Grant Sanderon’s latest calculus video series with kids. My goal is not remotely to develop a calculus course, but just to give kids an opportunity to see and explore some of the basic ideas that Sanderson shares in his video series. At a high level, things like slope of the graph of a function are easily accessible to kids even if the calculations required to make the ideas precise might be beyond them. Our projects so far are here:

So, walking the dog tonight I came up with two ideas for discussion:

(i) How does the length of the hypotenuse of a right triangle change as the length of one of the sides changes?

(ii) If a function has the property that the slope of the tangent line is the same as the value of the function, what would that function look like?

We began with a quick review / discussion of slope in the context of a curve. This concept is still new to the boys and I wanted to have one quick review before we dove into the main project:

Next we moved on to the right triangle problem – how would the length of the hypotenuse change when one of the side lengths changed? The boys were able to grasp some basic ideas around when the changing side was short (near zero length) and very long (near infinite length), and we were able to make a sketch of what the derivative might look like just from these basic observations:

The next project was a basic (the most basic?) differential equation -> a function has the property that the derivative at a point is equal to the value of the function at that point. The value of the function at 0 is 1. What does this function look like?

Finally, we went up to the computer to use Mathematica to explore our two questions. For purposes of this higher level conceptual overview, it is nice that Mathematica’s built in functions allow us to study these two questions without having to do the calculations ourselves:

The more of these project I do, the more I’m convinced that this is a useful exercise for kids. For now at least, I can’t think of any reason why learning about these basic ideas at the same time you are learning about functions will cause problems.