Some Different Ways To Examine
James W. Wilson and Corinne A. Transue
University of Georgia

It has now become a rather standard exercise, with availble technology, to construct graphs to consider the


and to overlay several graphs of

for different values of a, b, or c as the other two are held constant. From these graphs discussion of the

patterns for the roots of

can be followed. For example, if we set

for b = -3, -2, -1, 0, 1, 2, 3, and overlay the graphs, the following picture is obtained.

We can discuss the "movement" of a parabola as b is changed. The parabola always passes through the

same point on the y-axis ( the point (0,1) with this equation). For b < -2 the parabola will intersect the

x-axis in two points with positive x values (i.e. the original equation will have two real roots, both

positive). For b = -2, the parabola is tangent to the x-axis and so the original equation has one real and

positive root at the point of tangency. For -1 < b < 2, the parabola does not intersect the x-axis -- the

original equation has no real roots. Similarly for b = 2 the parabola is tangent to the x-axis (one real

negative root) and for b > 2, the parabola intersets the x-axis twice to show two negative real roots for

each b.


Now consider the locus of the vertices of the set of parabolas graphed from


To determine the vertices of the set of parabolas we need to take the derivative of the equation. The derivative will determine the slope of the line that is tangent to the parabola. At the vertex of each parabola, we know that the slope of the tangent line must be equal to zero because it is the tangent line is a horizontal line.

The derivative of the parabola is

When we set the derivative equal to zero, we find

We can use this to solve for x

This will allow us to find our x coordinate. To calculate our y coordinates we can use the original equation. Below is a table of values for x and y.

















If we plot these points we will be able to see the locus of the vertices is the parabola



The locus of the parabola can help us to determine the vertices of set of original parabolas. In fact, there are many relationships when we are looking at sets of parabolas and the values of a, b, and c.

Consider again the equation

If we graph this relation in the xb plane with the lines b = -3, -2, -2, 1, 2, 3, we can use this to determine the roots of the parabola for the given values of b.

If we take any particular value of b, say b = 3 and b = -3, and overlay this equation on the graph we add two lines

parallel to the x-axis. If it intersects the curve in the xb plane the intersection points correspond to the roots

of the original equation for that value of b. We have the following graph.

For each value of b we select, we get a horizontal line. It is clear on a single graph that we get two

negative real roots of the original equation when b > 2, one negative real root when b = 2, no real roots

for -2 < b < 2, One positive real root when b = -2, and two positive real roots when b < -2.

The same is true for the varying values of a.

Consider the relation

and its graph

You can determine what values of a will give you the number of roots that are real.


The same is true for the values of c and the graph in the xc plane.

You can use these graphs to show the relationship between geometry and algebra.

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