Copyright © University of Cambridge. All rights reserved.

'Root Hunter' printed from

Show menu

Why do this problem?

This gives an interesting challenge in which students develop their understanding of functions and skills at approximation and estimation.

Possible approach

This is a quick problem in which students should be encouraged to try out function evaluation for various choices of numbers. Remember, that the key point is whether the function is positive or negative: we don't need to evaluate the exact values. Students should be encouraged to focus on whether the function is positive or negative, rather than computing the exact values.

Key Questions

  • What do we know about the values of a function either side of a solution?
  • Can you think of functions for which this sort of approach might not work?
  • Does this method tell us anything about the number of roots of an equation?

Possible extension

Could students create an algorithm (i.e. recipe or clear sequence of steps) to solve this problem for other functions? Can they clearly express their algorithm so that someone else could apply it for a function of their choice?

Note that at university this sort of idea is extended in courses on Analysis, and this result is called the Intermediate Value Theorem. It is actually a very useful and powerful mathematical idea.

Possible support

Suggest that students try key values of $0.5, 1, 1.5$ and so on. Give them calculators.Suggest that they tabulate the results of their calculations.