Calculus the Basics

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Calculus is basically the use of differentiation and integration on a given polynomial. At the AS level Mathematics in the UK calculus is introduced for the first time and is a rather different, though simple concept for students to grasp.

This is the process of taking each part of any polynomial (equation containing any powers of x) and multiplying it by the power of x then decreasing the power of x by one. For example:

4x^2 -> 2 x (4x^2) -> 2 x 4x -> 8x

Step one: Take the number.
Step two: Multiply by power, in this case 2.
Step Three: Take one from the power, in this case taking it down to 1.
Step Four: Simplify your answer.

The basic uses of differentiation are quite helpful in many things in mathematics. Given the equation of a line you can use the first derivative (differentiated once) to find the gradient of a curve by substituting in a point on the curve. The first derivative is known as 'dy/dx'.

Differentiation can also be used to find stationary points on graphs, ie. where the gradient is equal to zero. This is done by taking the equation of the graph, finding the first derivative of it and setting that equal to zero, this will find the points on the graph that are equal to zero.

The second derivative (differentiated twice) can be used then to find if this is a maximum point, the stationary point is at the top of the curve; a minimum point, the stationary point is at the bottom of the curve; or a point of inflexion where the graph goes level in the middle of a graph.

Here are some very simple diagrams of what I mean:

Maximum point:

Minimum point:


Point of inflexion:


That just about covers the basic uses for differentiation, there are further uses for it which are more advanced.

This is basically the opposite of differentiation. If you took the second derivative of an equation and integrated it you would get the first derivative. When anything is integrated, there is always an unknown, which is commonly referred to as 'c'. This can be worked out if there is a point given.

To integrate something you firstly take each part seperately then add one to the power of x then divide it al by that power. For example:

8x -> 8x^2 -> (8x^2)/2 -> 4x^2

Step One: Take the part of your equation you want to integrate.
Step Two: Raise the power by one.
Step Three: Divide by the new power.
Step Four: Simplify the outcome.

Integration, like differentiation has many uses. The main use in basic calculus of integration is finding the area under a curve between two points. It can also find the area between two curves, between two points.

This is done by first taking the equation of the line and integrating it. Let us say the equtation of the line is y = 3x^2 + 4x + 2, not too difficult. When this equation is fully integrated it comes out as: x^3 + 2x^2 + 2x + c.

Right, though I said earlier that all integrations bring out an unknown, 'c', this is different. Though the integration does make an unknown 'c' it is not needed for the equation. Say in this we want to find the area between x points 1 and 3. We need to substitute in 3 and 1 into the equation:

3^3 + 2(3^2) + 2(3) = 27 + 18 + 6 = 51

1^3 + 2(1^2) + 2(1) = 1 + 2 + 1 = 4

After this we substitute the lesser x value, in this case 1, from the higher value, in this case 3. This substitution would have cancelled out the 'c' in the equation therfore it was not necessary to work it out.

51 - 4 = 47

This is the area under the curve between points 1 and three and above the x axis.

Calculus can take you far in maths and it is a handy basic tool to know about. If you are still in secondary education, getting the grasp of this early if you intend to go on into further education will give you a great advantage. If this didn't help then look it up elsewhere. A useful tool for anyone.

More about this author: Dan Fellowes

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