Parametric and Vector Equations

AP Type Questions 8

Particle moving on a plane for BC – the parametric/vector question.

I have always had the impression that the AP exam assumed that parametric equations and vectors were first studied and developed in a pre-calculus course. In fact many schools do just that. It would be nice if students knew all about these topics when they started BC calculus. Because of time considerations, this very rich topic probably cannot be fully developed in BC calculus. I will try to address here the minimum that students need to know to be successful on the BC exam. Certainly if you can do more and include a unit in a pre-calculus course do so.

Another concern is that most textbooks jump right to vectors in 3-space while the exam only test motion in a plane and 2-dimensional vectors.

In the plane, the position of a moving object as a function of time, t, can be specified by a pair of parametric equations x=x\left( t \right)\text{ and }y=y\left( t \right) or the equivalent vector \left\langle x\left( t \right),y\left( t \right) \right\rangle . The path is the curve traced by the parametric equations.

The velocity of the movement in the x- and y-direction is given by the vector \left\langle {x}'\left( t \right),{y}'\left( t \right) \right\rangle . The vector sum of the components gives the direction of motion. Attached to the tip of the position vector this vector is tangent to the path pointing in the direction of motion. The length of this vector is the speed of the moving object. \text{Speed }=\sqrt{{{\left( {x}'\left( t \right) \right)}^{2}}+{{\left( {y}'\left( t \right) \right)}^{2}}}

The acceleration is given by the vector \left\langle {{x}'}'\left( t \right),{{y}'}'\left( t \right) \right\rangle .

What students should know how to do

  • Vectors may be written using parentheses, ( ), or pointed brackets, \left\langle {} \right\rangle , or even \vec{i},\vec{j} form. The pointed brackets seem to be the most popular right now, but any notation is allowed.
  • Find the speed at time t\text{Speed }=\sqrt{{{\left( {x}'\left( t \right) \right)}^{2}}+{{\left( {y}'\left( t \right) \right)}^{2}}}
  • Use the definite integral for arc length to find the distance traveled \displaystyle \int_{a}^{b}{\sqrt{{{\left( {x}'\left( t \right) \right)}^{2}}+{{\left( {y}'\left( t \right) \right)}^{2}}}}dt. Notice that this is the integral of the speed (rate times time = distance).
  • The slope of the path is \displaystyle \frac{dy}{dx}=\frac{{y}'\left( t \right)}{{x}'\left( t \right)}.
  • Determine when the particle is moving left or right,
  • Determine when the particle is moving up or down,
  • Find the extreme position (farthest left, right, up or down).
  • Given the position find the velocity by differentiating; given the velocity find the acceleration by differentiating.
  • Given the acceleration and the velocity at some point find the velocity by integrating; given the velocity and the position at some point find the position by integrating. These are really just initial value differential equation problems (IVP).
  • Dot product and cross product are not tested on  the BC exam.

Shorter questions on these ideas appear in the multiple-choice sections. As always, look over as many questions of this kind from past exams as you can find.


Motion on a Line

AP Type Questions 4

These questions may give the position equation, the velocity equation or the acceleration equation of something that is moving, along with an initial condition. The questions ask for information about motion of the particle: its direction, when it changes direction, its maximum position in one direction (farthest left or right), its speed, etc.  

The particle may be a “particle,” a person, car, a rocket, etc.  Particles don’t really move in this way, so the equation or graph should be considered to be a model. The question is a versatile way to test a variety of calculus concepts.

The position, velocity or acceleration may be given as an equation, a graph or a table; be sure to use examples of all three forms during the review. 

Many of the concepts related to motion problems are the same as those related to function and graph analysis. Stress the similarities and show students how the same concepts go by different names. For example, finding when a particle is “farthest right” is the same as finding the when a function reaches its “absolute maximum value.” See my post for November 16, 2012 for a list of these corresponding terms.

The position, s(t), is a function of time. The relationships are

  • The velocity is the derivative of the position, {s}'\left( t \right)=v\left( t \right). Velocity is has direction (indicated by its sign) and magnitude. Technically, velocity is a vector; the term “vector” will not appear on the AB exam.
  • Speed is the absolute value of velocity; it is a number, not a vector. See my post for November 19, 2012.
  • Acceleration is the derivative of velocity and the second derivative of position, \displaystyle a\left( t \right)={v}'\left( t \right)={{s}'}'\left( t \right). It, too, has direction and magnitude and is a vector.
  • Velocity is the antiderivative of the acceleration
  • Position is the antiderivative of velocity.

What students should be able to do:

  • Understand and use the relationships above.
  • Distinguish between position at some time and the total distance traveled during the time
    • The total distance traveled is the definite integral of the speed \displaystyle \int_{a}^{b}{\left| v\left( t \right) \right|}\,dt:
    • The net distance (displacement) is the definite integral of the velocity (rate of change): \displaystyle \int_{a}^{b}{v\left( t \right)}\,dt
    • The final position is the initial position plus the definite integral of the rate of change from x = a to x = t: \displaystyle s\left( t \right)=s\left( a \right)+\int_{a}^{t}{v\left( x \right)}\,dx Notice that this is an accumulation function equation.
  • Initial value differential equation problems: given the velocity or acceleration with initial condition(s) find the position or velocity. These are easily handled with the accumulation equation in the bullet above.
  • Find the speed at a particular time. The speed is the absolute value of the velocity.
  • Find average speed, velocity, or acceleration
  • Determine if the speed is increasing or decreasing.
    • If at some time, the velocity and acceleration have the same sign then the speed is increasing.
    • If they have different signs the speed is decreasing.
    • If the velocity graph is moving away from (towards) the t-axis the speed is increasing (decreasing).
  • Use a difference quotient to approximate derivative
  • Riemann sum approximations
  • Units of measure
  • Interpret meaning of a derivative or a definite integral in context of the problem

Shorter questions on this concept appear in the multiple-choice sections. As always, look over as many questions of this kind from past exams as you can find.

For some previous posts on this subject see November 16, 19, 2012, January 21, 2013. There is also a worksheet on speed here and on the Resources pages (click at the top of this page).

The BC topic of motion in a plane, (parametric equations and vectors) will be discussed in a later post (March 15, 2013, tentative date)

Motion Problems: Same Thing, Different Context

Calculus is about things that are changing. Certainly, things that move are changing, changing their position, velocity and acceleration. Most calculus textbooks deal with things being dropped or thrown up into the air. This is called uniformly accelerated motion since the acceleration is due to gravity and is constant. While this is a good place to start, the problems are by their nature, somewhat limited. Students often know all about uniformly accelerated motion from their physics class.

The Advanced Placement exams take motion problems to a new level. AB students often encounter particles moving along the x-axis or the y-axis (i.e. on a number line) according to some function that gives the particle’s position, velocity or acceleration.  BC students often encounter particles moving around the plane with their coordinates given by parametric equations or its velocity given by a vector. Other times the information is given as a graph or even in a table of the position or velocity. The “particle” may become a car, or a rocket or even chief readers riding bicycles.

While these situations may not be all that “real”, they provide excellent ways to ask both differentiation and integration questions. but be aware that they are not covered that much in some textbooks; supplementing the text may be necessary.

The main derivative ideas are that velocity is the first derivative of the position function, acceleration is the second derivative of the position function and the first derivative of the velocity. Speed is the absolute value of velocity. (There will be more about speed in the next post.) The same techniques used to find the features of a graph can be applied to motion problems to determine things about the moving particle.

So the ideas are not new, but the vocabulary is. The table below gives the terms used with graph analysis and the corresponding terms used in motion problem.

Vocabulary: Working with motion equations (position, velocity, acceleration) you really do all the same things as with regular functions and their derivatives. Help students see that while the vocabulary is different, the concepts are the same.

Function                                Linear Motion
Value of a function at x               position at time t
First derivative                            velocity
Second derivative                       acceleration
Increasing                                   moving to the right or up
Decreasing                                 moving to the left or down
Absolute Maximum                    farthest right
Absolute Minimum                     farthest left
yʹ = 0                                         “at rest”
yʹ changes sign                          object changes direction
Increasing & cc up                     speed is increasing
Increasing & cc down                speed is decreasing
Decreasing & cc up                   speed is decreasing
Decreasing & cc down              speed is increasing
Speed                                       absolute value of velocity