Analyzing Polynomial Graphs

Here’s an INB page I created to introduce students to analyzing graphs of polynomials.

Each graph is repeated three times, so we can (literally) highlight different aspects of it. Luckily for me, Sarah is amazing at acquiring classroom supplies, so I have a lot of highlighters for students to use.

The first part was identifying the x-intercepts and the nature of each of the intercepts. I had students highlight the curve around each intercept, to emphasize whether they are simple intercepts, vertices (local minima or maxima) or inflection points.

As students did this, I tried to direct the conversation to figuring out why particular polynomials led to particular types of intercepts. This was actually really easy, as the class were asking and answering these questions without much prompting from me at all.

Next, we found the intervals for which each polynomial is positive, and for which they are negative. Having students visually represent the sections which are positive and negative really helped them in identifying those intervals.

I just (as in, while I’m writing this post) had an additional  idea to help with this part. If I’d given each student a card, they could place the edge of it along the x-axis so that only the positive parts of the graph were showing. They’d highlight those parts of the curve, then flip it over so they could highlight the negative parts of the curve.

Finally, they highlighted the sections which were increasing, and the sections which were decreasing. To find each local maximum and minimum, I just had to quickly teach them some differential calculus…

… just kidding. We used Desmos.

Joking aside, I do like using topics like this to start hinting at the math that students may be seeing in the future. I was able to explain that a big part of calculus is looking at the rate and direction of functions, with a particular focus on where functions are neither increasing or decreasing.

If you’d like these notes, downloads are available here.

I used to make the graphs. I know I’ve made my own graph sketching tool before, but it’s really only capable of parent functions and simple transformations of them, so GraphFree was exactly the tool I needed this time. (To be honest, the main reason I’m mentioning GraphFree here is I’d forgotten what GraphFree is called when trying to find GraphFree the other day, so I want to remember that GraphFree is called GraphFree. GraphFree.)

Following this, we did further practice using section 6.4 of the practice book I’m working on. Follow that link if you’d like to get those practice questions yourself – for free!


Algebra 2 Practice Book ver 0.1.1

Here’s the latest version of my Algebra 2 Practice Book. I’ve started Chapter 7 now, with questions for the following sections:

7.1 Reciprocal Functions. I prefer this title over “Inverse Variation”, as that’s too easy to confuse with inverse functions.

7.4 Simplifying Rational Expressions. This also includes simplifying products and quotients of rational expressions

Downloads are available here:

Mr. Carter’s Algebra 2 Practice Book
Version 0.1.1 (January 30, 2018)

Chapter 5: Polynomials Part A

Chapter 6: Polynomials Part B

Chapter 7: Rational Functions and Expressions

A reminder that these are early drafts of what is very much a work in progress. All content is subject to change.

Copyright Shaun Carter © 2018. Teachers may reproduce these documents for use in their own classroom only.


My Algebra 2 Practice Book

I’ve been working on a sort-of-secret project for the last couple of months. I decided to write my own book of practice problems for Algebra 2. Keep reading, and you’ll find a first draft of two of my chapters.

To be clear, this is not supposed to be a textbook. The way I see it, most math textbooks aim to do three things:

  1. Explain mathematical concepts.
  2. Give “worked examples” explaining how to do different types of questions.
  3. Provide a bank of practice questions.

“Explaining mathematical concepts” would be better described as “guiding students to a conceptual understanding of mathematics.” That’s not something a textbook can do because the textbook doesn’t know the students its guiding. I believe students are best served when they construct their knowledge of math themselves, under the guidance of their teacher.

And the “worked examples” should be the job of the students, again, with guidance from the teacher. Those examples should be developed either by individual students, groups or the whole class as appropriate, with the teacher checking to make sure mistakes aren’t showing up along the way. Many of the examples in my classes end up following a slightly different path than I’d have followed, because it made the most sense to the students at the time. But a textbook’s examples are fixed, and don’t allow students to think of how they’d solve problems themselves.

That leaves us with the practice questions. This has been, in the past, how I’ve seen textbooks as being the most useful. But the textbooks I teach with (or more correctly, don’t teach with as they sit in the cabinet) don’t do a great job of that either. They are seriously outdated, and while they make some token effort of demonstrating their alignment with Oklahoma’s standards, they’re the old PASS standards, not the Oklahoma Academic Standards we’ve had for over a year now. And most of the time, it’s hard to find questions I can use, because the sequencing of the book is nothing like that of my class (probably because my sequence was developed by myself from the standards the book is not aligned to.)

That has left me looking to other resources (typically online) to find practice questions in. But that’s often frustrating too, and can sometimes result in spending hours searching for the type of practice assignment that I feel should exist, somewhere, but I just can’t find. Sometimes I find questions that assume knowledge my students don’t have yet, or assume my students don’t know something they do and don’t go deep enough. Or they prescribe a particular method to solve a question; there’s nothing more frustrating than a good assignment ruined by “use FOIL to.” Then, with my preparation time wasted, I have to create my own questions anyway.

I’ve often said, “Someone should write a book of practice problems for Algebra 2. Sort of like a textbook, but without the explanations and examples I can provide myself.” And somewhere along the way, “someone should” became “I should.”

To date, I’ve been following these objectives when writing this book:

  • All work should align to the Oklahoma Academic Standards, which I’ve mostly done by ensuring my existing units and skills align to the standards, though some questions may exceed the standards.
  • Avoid telling students how to solve a problem. I do break this rule sometimes (for instance, there’s a question where students are told to use completing the square, even though it isn’t needed, because practicing completing the square was the point of the question.)
  • Provide scaffolding through the sequencing of questions, rather than giving students too many instructions.
  • Where possible, provide some backwards, “Jeopardy”-style questions. As in, the solution was …., what was a possible equation?
  • Where possible, provide “Further Practice” sections, suggesting to students how they can create their own questions (often with a partner) if they’re looking for, well,  further practice.
  • Look as professional as possible. I’ve learned a lot about LaTeX recently…
  • All questions are originally my own. I own the copyright, so that I can use it how I like.
  • I’m sure there were others, but it’s late and I really need to get to bed…

Working title is “Mr. Carter’s Algebra 2 Practice Book.” But I don’t want it to just be mine, I want other teachers to make use of it as well. To that end, I’m planning to make various draft versions available to download even at this very early stage.

Mr. Carter’s Algebra 2 Practice Book
Version 0.1.0 (January 14, 2018)

Chapter 5: Polynomials Part A

Chapter 6: Polynomials Part B

Please, have a look through it, use it in your classroom if you’d like. I’d like suggestions, though please don’t be too harsh. As I’ve said, even these chapters I’m sharing are in a very early state. I’m actually feeling nervous about sharing this, as a lot of work has gone into it, but there’s a lot more work to do. But I’m taking a risk here, because I believe this project can do what my blog also aims to do: to make me a better teacher, and possibly help other teachers out along the way.


My most used notebook template this year

Over the last summer I completely rethought my Algebra 2 course. Part of this is my focus on parent functions through the first part of the year, giving students a solid understanding of each function and their transformations.

To help focus on the fundamental properties of each function, we used the following template each time we introduced a new function.

Importantly, I had the students figure out details as a class. After stating the rule for the function, we always filled in the two-sided number line, with inputs on the top and outputs on the bottom. I chose to use a number line instead of a table, as it allows me to point out the continuous nature of the values between each mark on the line.

Then we filled in the domain and range, examining the inputs and outputs to determine these. We also determined if the function is one-to-one or many-to-one. I’m really proud of how my students have become increasingly confident in determining these answers for themselves from their own understanding of the functions and their values.

Next, we plotted the function on the grid. The number line is deliberately aligned with this grid to help students make the connection between the two. I have a SmartBoard template set up with points along the x-axis, with which we move points up or down to plot the function, to emphasize how the graph demonstrates the connection between input and output values. Then knowing the shape of the graph allowed us to easily fill in the rest of the table.

The inverse function section depended on which function we were talking. Sometimes we filled it in immediately, as most students understood x² and √x as inverses. Other times we waited to fill it in, such as with exponential functions which was completed before we talked about logarithms.

The second part of this template are the two “Graphing Example” section inside.

In the past, I’ve found students resistant to showing all the algebra they needed when they sketch a graph (usually because all they wanted to do was copy what their calculator showed.) I wouldn’t say this template has completely changed that, but it has made a big difference. Students complained a bit at the start of the year, but they’ve learned to appreciate the guidance this provides and gained a lot of confidence in their graphing ability. I know students probably don’t need to find the transformations of the parent function for every graph they sketch, but I think having them do this for each question we practice has helped their understanding of why each function produces the graph it does, and has helped serve as a check for the other parts of the template.

We’ve often had to leave the x-intercept section blank, because we’ve started graphing each type of function before we looked at solving equations involving that function. This has actually worked out pretty well. I found students accept my explanation that “We can’t do this yet because I haven’t taught you how.” Then, when we come solving those equations (typically the very next skill), I can use the need to find x-intercepts as a motivation for practicing solving equations. Then we go back to our graphing examples, find the x-intercepts, and add that detail to the graph. My students are sometimes annoyed that we jump backwards in our notes sometimes, but I think they appreciate that I’ve tried to avoid overwhelming them with too many details they don’t need to see all at once.

That’s been my approach all of this year: the idea that students don’t need to see all the detail until they’re ready for it. For instance, while we’ve talked about quadratic functions, we’ve only dealt with the vertex form, as that’s the form that can be explained through transformations, fitting the function pattern we’ve been following. Yes, we still need to talk about factoring, distributing and all that fun stuff. But now I feel we have a structure to build everything else on. I’m actually looking forward to completing the square this year, as I have a really useful motivation for it: it allows us to put quadratic functions into the form my students are already very familiar with.

We’ve introduced our last parent function now, so I’m not going to get any more use out this template this year. To be honest, I felt a little sad when we finished our last one, because it’s worked so well this year. Also, it means I’ll actually have to produce notes for each lesson now, instead of using the same ones over and over again…

You can find PDF and Publisher files here.
Included is a second version that leaves out the parent function template for a third graphing example.

Below you can find all the parent functions from my notebook for this year, as well as a couple of the graphing examples pages.

Linear Function

Absolute Value Function

Quadratic Function

Square Root Function

Cubic Function

Cube Root Function

Rational Functions


Exponential Function

Logarithmic Function

Graphing Examples