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Local Linearity II

Using Local Linearity to introduce difference quotient and the derivative.

A good way to introduce difference quotients and derivatives is to write the equation of the “line” you see when you zoom-in on a locally linear function.

First: Ask your class to use their calculator or computer grapher to graph a function, say y = sin(x), or some function they like better.

  1. Ask them to trace over to some point where the graph is “curvy.” (So they will remain on the graph, use the TRACE feature, not the moving cursor.) They do not have to go to, or even be near, the same place.
  2. Then ask them to zoom-in several times until  their graph looks like a straight line (locally linear) and save the coordinates of that point as a and b (see the technology hint below).
  3. Then return to the graph and trace one or two clicks left or right to a nearby point on the graph and record the coordinates of that point as c and d.
  4. Write the equation of the line through (a, b) and (c ,d) and enter it in the graphing menu (see technology hint again).
  5. Graph the line. They should see only one “line” because the two graphs are on top of each other.
  6. Re-graph in the standard or Trig window. What do you see now? They should see their original graph with a line that appears tangent to it at the point (a, b).

Next: Discuss what you’ve done, specifically in finding the slope. The value c is a plus a little bit, that is c = a + h. (Or minus a  little bit if h is negative.) So the slope is

\displaystyle \frac{Y1(a+h)-Y1(a)}{(a+h)-a}\text{ or }\frac{f\left( x+h \right)-f\left( x \right)}{h}

and now you are ready to talk about difference quotients and their limit the derivative.

Technology Hints:

When you trace a graph on a calculator the coordinates of the point are written on the bottom of the screen as X and Y, or xc and yc. If you return to the home screen and type X [STO] A and Y [STO] B (or xc [STO] a etc.) the values will be saved to A and B. When you trace to the next point the x and y change, so return to the home screen and save them as C and D.

The line can be written directly in the equation editor in point-slope form by typing Y2 = Y1(A) + (Y1(B)-Y1(A))/(B – A)*(x – A)

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Local Linearity I

Certain graphs, specifically those that are differentiable, have a property called local linearity. This means that if you zoom in (using the same zoom factor in both directions) on a point on the graph, the graph eventually appears to be a straight line whose slope if the same as the slope (derivative) of the tangent line at that point.

Now we are a little ahead of ourselves here since we haven’t mentioned tangent lines and derivatives yet. But local linearity is the graphical manifestation of differentiability. Functions that are differentiable at a point are locally linear there and functions that are locally linear are differentiable. In the next post we will see how to use the local linear idea to introduce the derivative. For now we will look at some graphs that may or may not be locally linear. Are the graphs “smooth” everywhere?

(1)\quad f\left( x \right)=1+\sqrt{{{x}^{2}}+0.001}

\displaystyle (2)\quad g\left( x \right)={{x}^{3}}+\frac{\sqrt[3]{{{\left( x-1 \right)}^{2}}}}{7}

The first function is locally linear at (0, 1) but doesn’t look it. Zoom in several times and you will see that it is smooth and locally linear there eventually the graph looks like a horizontal line near (0, 1). This only looks like an absolute value graph because 1+\sqrt{{{x}^{2}}+0.001}\approx 1+\sqrt{{{x}^{2}}}=1+\left| x \right|.

The second function appears locally linear at (1, 1), but is not. Zoom in a few times at you will see very strange things going on. (Hint: Use a graphing program or a calculator and enter x^3+((x – 1)^2)^(1/3)/7 as simplifying to a power of 2/3 may confuse the calculator.)

The moral is that you can never be sure just looking at a graph whether it is locally linear or not; you’re never sure if you have zoomed in enough.

Nevertheless, the local linearity concept is helpful in introducing the derivative and, when you can be sure the function is not locally linear, knowing the derivative does not exist.

Looking ahead: Take a look at the AP exam from 2005 AB 5. Here you were given a velocity graph “modeled by the piecewise- linear function defined by the graph” copied below.

Student were asked to find v ‘(4) or explain why it does not exist. It does not exist because the graph is not locally linear there.

Later they were asked if the Mean Value Theorem guaranteed a value of c in the interval [8, 20] such that v ‘(c) is equal to the average rate of change over the interval. The answer is “no”, the value does not exist because the function is not differentiable on the interval because it is not locally linear everywhere in the interval.

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