At Just the Right Time

This is about a little problem that appeared at just the right time. My class had just learned about derivatives (limit definition) and the fact that the derivative is the slope of the tangent line. But none of that was really firm yet. I had assigned this problem for homework:1

Find (3) and f ‘ (3), assuming that the tangent line to y = f (x) at a = 3 has equation y = 5x + 2

To solve the problem you need to realize that the tangent line and the function intersect at the point where x = 3. So (3) was the same as the point on the line where x = 3. Therefore, (3) = 5(3) + 2 = 17.

Then you have to realize that the derivative is the slope of the tangent line and we know the tangent line’s equation and we can read the slope. So f ‘ (3) = 5

In my previous retired years I wrote a number of questions for several editions of a popular AP Calculus exam review book.2 I found it easy to write difficult questions. But what I was after was good easy questions; they are more difficult to write. One type of good easy question is one that links two concepts in a way that is not immediately obvious such as the question above. I am always amazed at the good easy questions on the AP calculus exams. Of course they do not look easy, but that’s what makes them good.

Now a month from now this question will not be a difficult at all – in fact it did not stump all of my students this week. Nevertheless, appearing at just the right time, I think it did help those it did stump, and that’s why I like it.


1From Calculus for AP(Early Transcendentals) by Jon Rogawski and Ray Cannon. © 2012, W. H. Freeman and Company, New York  Website p. 126 #20

2 These review books are published by D&S Marketing Systems, Inc. Website



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