Category Archives: TI-84+Family

Rational Functions

We are studying Rational Functions, and I was looking for technology activities which would help students visualize the graphs of the functions and deepen their understanding of the concepts involved.  Previously, I had taught algebraic and numerical methods to find the key features of the graphs (asymptotes, holes, zeros, intercepts), then students would sketch by hand and check on the graphing calculator.  I wanted to capitalize on technology’s power of visualization* to give students timely feedback on whether their work/graph is correct, and avoid using the grapher as a “magic” answer machine.  I also wanted to familiarize students with the patterns of rational function graphs—in the same way that they know that quadratic functions are graphed as “U-shape” parabolas.

Here are three ideas:

Interactive Sliders

Students can manipulate the parameters in a rational function using interactive sliders on a variety of platforms (Geogebra, TI-Nspire, Transformation Graphing App for TI-84+ family, Desmos).  Consider the transformations of these two parent functions:

eq1 to become  eq3and

eq2 to become    eq4

Each of these can be explored with various values for the parameters, including negative values of a.

Here are screenshots from Transformation Graphing on the TI-84+ family:

Another option is to explore multiple x-intercepts such aseq5.

This TI-Nspire activity Graphs of Rational Functions does just that:


In a lesson using sliders, on any platform, I use the following stages so students will:

  1. Explore the graphs of related functions on an appropriate window.  Especially for the TI-84+ family, consider using a “friendly window” such as ZoomDecimal, and show the Grid in the Zoom>Format menu if desired.  Trace to view holes, and notice that the y-value is indeed “undefined.” capture-6
  2. Record conjectures about the roles of a, h, and k and how the exponent of x changes the shape of the graph.  This Geogebra activity has a “quick change” slider that adjusts the parent function from  eq1  to eq2.capture-geogebra-rationals
  3. Make predictions about what a given function will look like and verify with the graphing technology (or provide a function for a given graph).

A key component of the lesson is to have students work on a lab sheet or in a notebook or in an electronic form to record the results and summarize the findings.  Even if your technology access is limited to demonstrating the process on a teacher computer projected to the class, require students to actively record and discuss.  The activity must engage students in doing the math, not simply viewing the math.


A Desmos activity reminiscent of the classic GreenGlobs, MarbleSlides-Rationals has students graph curves so their marbles will slide through all of the stars on the screen.  If students already have a working understanding of the parent function graphs, this is a wonderful and fun exploration.

The activity focuses on the same basic curves, and it also introduces the ability to restrict the domain in order to “corral” the marbles.  Users can input multiple equations on one screen.

I really liked how it steps the students through several “Fix It” tasks to learn the fundamentals of changing the value and sign of a, h, k and the domains. These are followed by “Predict” and “Verify” screens, one where you are asked to “Help a Friend” and several culminating “Challenges”.  Particularly fun are the tasks that require more than one equation.

On one challenge, students noticed that the stars were in a linear orientation.


Although it could be solved with several equations, I asked if we could reduce it to one or two.  One student wondered how we could make a line out of a rational function.  Discussion turned to slant asymptotes, so we challenged ourselves to find a rational function which would divide to equal the linear function throw the points.  Here was a possible solution:


Asymptotes & Zeros

Finally, I wanted students to master rational functions whose numerator and denominator were polynomials, and connect the factors of these polynomials to the zeros, asymptotes, and holes in the graph.  I used the Asymptotes and Zeros activity (with teacher file) for the TI-84+ family.  It can also be used on other graphing platforms.

Students are asked to graph a polynomial (in blue below) and find its zeros and y-intercept.  They then factor this polynomial and make the conceptual connection between the factor and the zeros.  Another polynomial is examined in the same way (in black below).  Finally, the two original polynomials become the numerator and denominator of a rational function (in green below).  Students relate the zeros and asymptotes of the rational function back to the zeros of the component functions.


I particularly liked the illumination of the y-intercept, that it is the quotient of the y-intercepts of the numerator and denominator polynomials.  We had always analyzed the numerator and denominator separately to find the features of the rational function graph, but it hadn’t occurred to me to graph them separately.

A few concluding thoughts to keep in mind: any of these activities can work on another technology platform, so don’t feel limited if you don’t have a particular calculator or students don’t have computer/internet access.  Try to find a like-minded colleague who will work with you as you experiment with technology implementation, so you can share what worked and what didn’t with your students (and if you don’t have someone in your building, connect with the #MTBoS community on Twitter).  Finally, ask good questions of your students, to probe and prod their thinking and be sure they are gaining the conceptual understanding you are seeking.


*The “Power of Visualization” is a transformative feature of computer and calculator graphers that was promoted by Bert Waits and Frank Demana who founded the Teachers Teaching with Technology professional community.  More information in this article and in Waits, B. K. & Demana, F. (2000).  Calculators in Mathematics Teaching and Learning: Past, Present, and Future. In M. J. Burke & F. R. Curcio (Eds.), Learning Math for a New Century: 2000 Yearbook (51–66).  Reston, VA: NCTM.

All of the activities referenced in this post are found here.  More available on the Texas Instruments website at TI-84 Activity Central and Math Nspired, or at Geogebra or Desmos.

For more about the Transformation Graphing App for the TI-84+ family of calculators, see this information.

GreenGlobs is still available! Check out the website here.

Function Operations

Using Multiple Representations on the TI-84+

Algebra 2 students are studying function operations and transformations of a parent function.  My student had learned about the graph of eq1 and how it gets shifted, flipped, and stretched by including parameters a, h, and k in the equation.

Now he was faced with this question: how to graph  the equation in #58:


It didn’t fit the model of  eq3new-copy  so it wasn’t a transformation of the absolute value parent function.  He knew how to graph each part individually, but didn’t know how to graph the combined equation.  The TI-84+ showed him the graph with an unusual shape—not the V-shape he expected.

TIP: use the alpha2  button to access the shortcut menus above the  yequals-key, window-key, zoom-key and trace-key  keys. The absolute value template is used here.

“Why does the graph look like this?” he wanted to know. We decided to break up the equation into two parts, using ALPHA-TRACE to access the YVAR variable names.* The complete function is found by adding up the two partial functions.


Then we looked at a table of values, to get a numerical view of the situation.  I remind my students that if they are unsure how to graph a particular function, they can ALWAYS make a table of X-Y values as a backup plan—it isn’t the quickest method to graph, but is sure to work.  To get the Y-values of the combined function, add up the Y-values for the partial functions, since sum-function.

Initially, we “turned off” Y3 by pressing ENTER on the equals sign, so we could view the partial functions in the TABLE. I asked the student what he thought the values in the next column should be.


He mentally added them up, and then we verified his thinking by activating Y3 and viewing the table again.capture-5

To further illuminate the flat portion of the graph, we changed the table increment to 0.1 in order to “zoom in” on those values.

TIP: While in the table,  press plus-key to change the increment table-increment , or press 2nd WINDOW to access the TBL SET screen.capture-6Success! The TI-84+ provided graphical and numerical representations that deepened our understanding of the algebraic equation. This task had challenged the student, because it didn’t fit the parent function model he had learned, but he built on his knowledge of function operations to solve is own problem and help some classmates as well.  One of our approaches to learning is to “use what you know.”**


*You can use function notation on the home screen to perform calculations with any function from the Y= screen. Access the YVARs from ALPHA-TRACE.

**Much has been written about Classroom Norms. See Jo Boaler’s suggestions here and my messages to students here.

For more about transformations on parent functions, see this information about the Transformation Graphing App on the TI-84+ family of calculators.

Body Benchmarks!

Body Benchmarks: Analyze the Data and See How You Measure Up!

I first used this activity in an Algebra I class when I wanted students to have a hands-on experience gathering data and modeling it with a linear function. Later, I used this as an “all-ages” station at our elementary school’s Family Math Night. Let’s explore this problem situation and look at low-tech and high-tech methods to analyze this real-life data.

Here are the Instructions: [link to file]

  1. Write your name on the Record Sheet.
  2. Use the measuring tape to measure your forearm in inches from elbow to tip of middle finger.
  3. Record forearm measurement on the Record Sheet next to your name.
  4. Use the measuring tape to measure your height (if you don’t know it, in inches.)
  5. Record height measurement on the Record Sheet next to your name.
  6. Place a mark on the Group Graph that corresponds to your Forearm Length (Horizontal Axis) and Height (Vertical Axis).

There are some interesting discussions that can occur during data collection and recording. Why did we use inches? How precise should our measurements be (to nearest inch, half-inch, quarter-inch)? Are there some measurement activities that are better served by the metric system? Why did we choose to put Forearm Length on the X-axis and Height on the Y-Axis (is one variable clearly the independent variable and the other depends on it, or does it not matter)? What scale did we use on the large graph paper and did I graph my data point accurately? Is there any point that is clearly an outlier? [Not all of these topics came up in every class setting; are there other conversations you experienced or think are important for the teacher to orchestrate?]


Once the data is collected, the group graph shows a positive correlation that could be modeled by a linear function. A low-tech way to find a line of best fit is to graph the data on graph paper, and use a ruler or dry spaghetti/linguine pasta to approximate the line with this criteria: “Follow the trend of the data points, and have about half the points above and half below the line”.

Then select two points (must they be data points? Or just graph grid intersections?) and find the equation of the line (point-slope form or slope-intercept form?). Don’t stop at the equation… what does this formula do for us? Can we predict someone’s height if we know their forearm length? Can you describe the shape of the graph, and how does this relate to the equation? What other questions do you want to ask about this situation?

When technology is available in the classroom, we can use a high-tech approach to analyze the Body Benchmarks data. On the TI-84+ family of graphing calculators (including 83+, 84+, and the color devices 84+C and 84+CE), enter the data into L1 and L2. Then turn on the StatPlot and choose an appropriate window. [What else do you want to discuss with your students… do you have them choose a window or use ZoomStat? Are the students to be responsible for knowing the key presses?]

Then we can analyze the data using the options in the StatCalc menu. I used go directly to the LinReg choice to perform a linear regression. Then I recently discovered that at the bottom of this menu, there is option D:Manual-Fit. This is a high-tech version of the dry pasta best fit line! Note that this feature is available on ALL the TI-84+ graphing calculators, even though my images below are of the color devices.

When Manual-Fit is chosen, you are prompted to designate a location to store the equation. Press ALPHA-TRACE and select Y1. Then arrow down to “Calculate” and press ENTER.

On the graph, move the cursor to place the first point to model the line and press ENTER. If desired, the STYLE of the line can be changed by pressing GRAPH and choosing a new color or line style. Then move the cursor to the second point and press ENTER.

Now, you may have noticed that the line I have chosen is a bit below my set of data, although my slope is a reasonably good fit. BEFORE you are done, you can edit the two parameters M and B in the y = Mx + B equation. Simply enter the new value into the highlighted parameter. When you are happy with your line of fit, press GRAPH to select DONE.


Body Benchmarks Instructions and Record Sheet [click here for file]

Body Benchmarks Data that I used in these screenshots [click here for file]

Body Benchmarks Questions [click here for file]

Step-by-step overview of basic STAT EDIT, STAT PLOT, and STAT CALC functions [click here for file]

Extensions: What other measurements can you take and analyze? Consider armspan, foot length, hand size, and head or wrist circumference.

For more information on hands-on lab activities that generate linear data, see the book: Algebra Experiments 1 Exploring Linear Functions (1992) by Mary Jean Winter & Ronald J. Carlson. [link]