Karl Weierstrass (1815 – 1897) was the mathematician who (finally) formalized the definition of continuity. Included in that definition was the epsilon-delta definition of limit. This definition has been pulled out, so to speak, and now is usually presented on its own. So, which came first – continuity or limit? The ideas and situations that required continuity could only be formalized with the concept of limit. So, looking at functions that are or are not continuous helps us understand what limits are and why we first need them.

In the ideal world, students would have plenty of work with continuous and not continuous functions before starting the calculus. The vocabulary and notation, if not the formal definitions, would be used as early as possible. Then when students got to calculus, they would know the ideas and be ready to formalize the ideas.

The Intermediate Value Theorem (IVT) is an important property of continuous functions.

Using the definition of continuity to show that a function is or is not continuous at a point is a common question of the AP exams, as is the IVT.

Continuity The definition of continuity.

Continuity Should continuity come before limits?

From One Side or the Other One-sided limits and one-sided differentiability

How to Tell Your Asymptote from a Hole in the Graph  From the technology series. Showing holes and asymptotes on a graphing calculator.

Fun with Continuity Defined everywhere and continuous nowhere. Continuous only at a single point.

Theorems The Intermediate Value Theorem (IVT) and suggestions on teaching theorems.

Intermediate Weather  Using the IVT

Right Answer – Wrong Question Continuity or continuity “on its domain”?






Revised from a post of August 22, 2017




Theorems are statements that summarize the results that are true in mathematics. Theorems are statements that have been proved true; but the emphasis in AP Calculus is not on proof. Rather, it is on what the theorems mean and how to use them.

Theorems have two parts: the “if …” clause called the hypothesis and the “then …” clause called the conclusion. Students need to know both parts. In many theorems the conclusion is some sort of formula. The students need to know this, but also need to know when they can use it (the hypothesis tells them that).

An early important theorem is the Intermediate Value Theorem (IVT). Take some time with this theorem. “Play” with it. The hypothesis requires that the function be continuous on a closed interval. Use graphs (sketches, no equation needed) to show cases where the conclusion is both true and false when the function is not continuous. Can the function take on values not between f(a) and f(b)? Can you find a case where the hypothesis is met, but the conclusion is false? (Let’s hope not!)

Consider the theorem (p\to q), its converse (q\to p), its inverse (\sim p\to \sim q) and its contrapositive (\sim q\to \sim p) by looking at graphs of each case. (For the IVT the converse and inverse are false. The contrapositive of any true theorem is also true.)

Finally, for this and for all the important theorems that you use this year, express them in words, “play” with them by making change to the hypothesis, and look at graphs. Don’t just state the theorem and expect students to understand it, remember it and use it correctly.

The next post will be about definitions, which are similar to theorems in lots of ways.