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How do we find the slope of a curve

at some random point when the
slope is continuously changing?
By: Mellody Alexandra DaCruz
Vocabulary this presentation will
- Tangent Line: a line that touches a curve at a point without
crossing over
- Slope formula: m=y2-y1 or m=f(x)2-f(x)
- x2-x1 x2-x1

- Derivative: a function which gives the slope of a curve; that
is, the slope of the line tangent to a point

- Secant: a line that intersects a curve at two points

- Difference Quotient: you’ll find out Glossary

Arbitrary: (adj) based on
*They will be highlighted in RED! random choice
Here’s some info you should know:

● The slope of the curve f(x) at some
● The slope formula:
point “p” is equal to the slope of the
tangent line that goes through point
“p” on the curve

● Difference Quotient:

DQ= f(x+h)-f(x)
● Tangent: A line that just touches the h
curve at one point without crossing
Problem: how are we going to find the slope of a curved line at any
This is tricky because slopes on curves are constantly changing

BUT… There’s this thing called the derivative function f’(x) and
whatever input you put for x it outputs the slope of f(x) at the
same value x. Here’s a simple example:


f’(x)= 2x

f’(3)=6 Then at the point (3,9) the slope of f(x) is f’(3)=6

It works see! Want to know how I got it?
How do you obtain the derivative?
Okay I am going to 1. Find the difference quotient
give you the steps ~find f(x+h)
on how to find the ~subtract f(x) from it
~divide the whole thing by h so you
derivative, robot end up with f(x+h)-f(x)
style, and I h
promise there is Ex: f(x)=x2 from previous slide
going to be a 2. Take the limit of DQ as h approaches 0
detailed ~essentially setting h to 0
explanation.Let’s Ex: limit of DQ is 2x
use the previous
3. You got your derivative f’(x)= 2x
But how does this process work?
To help explain let’s look at this
good ol parabola. We’ll be using our
goal to find the slope of the curve
at P1.

How though? You don’t know the slope
of the curve and don’t know the
slope of the tangent line…

can draw a secant line at P1(f,f(x))
and another point of your choice &
make its x coordinate h bigger so it
will be P2(x+h,f(x+h)). Why? Because
you can find the slope of that line
now that you have 2 points, duh.
Now, to find the slope of the line that passes through P1(f,f(x))
and P2(x+h,f(x+h)) you just plug them into the slope formula,
which you know how to do… I hope.

mP1P2=f(x+h) - f(x) after simplifying… mP1P2=f(x+h) - f(x)
(x+h) - x h

Here’s an “A-Ha” moment…

By doing so, you found the DQ!
Let’s do some thinking here...
Now that you have some satisfaction of why we use the difference
quotient, I know there is still one question lingering. Why is it
that the slope of our secant line is nowhere close to the slope
of our tangent line?

EXPERIMENT TIMEEE! What if we pick a random point on the parabola
and make h smaller this time on the secant line? What if we
continue to make h smaller and smaller and smaller? I’ll give you
time to take a guess what the relationship between the secant and
tangent line will be.
x x+h x x+h x
h h h
Did you guess correctly? This diagram helps to show how if we
make h infinitesimally small to the point where it is practically
0, the slope of the secant line eventually approaches the slope
of the tangent line at P1.

*The smaller the h is, the better the slope of the secant line
estimates the slope of the tangent line. Another “A-Ha” moment!
To conclude, because the difference
quotient is derived from finding the
slope of a secant line passing through
points P1(x,f(x)) and P2(x+h,f(x+h) on a
curve when h approaches 0, the slope of
the secant line approaches the slope of
the tangent line. AND since the slope
of the tangent line at P1 is equal to
the curve at P1, finding the limit of
the DQ as h approaches 0 gives access
to the slope of the curve at any given
point and answering our essential
question. I hope this helped!