Project: "Modeling Motion: Exploring Differentiation through Falling Objects"



Calculus: Differentiation


Calculus is a branch of mathematics that deals with rates of change and accumulation of quantities. One of the key concepts in calculus is differentiation. Differentiation is about breaking things down into its smaller, basic parts. It involves understanding the concept of a limit, learning various formulae, and applying these to solve real-world problems.

In Calculus, a derivative measures how a function changes as its input changes. Loosely speaking, a derivative can be thought of as how much one quantity is changing in response to changes in some other quantity; for example, how the position of a moving car changes over time.

Differentiation has wide applications in a number of scientific, economic, and social disciplines. In physics, it is used to define speed and acceleration, in biology, it aids in modeling population growth, in economics, differentiation is used to optimize profit and cost functions, while in sociology it might help to model social change over time.


The ability to understand and apply the differentiation is not just critical for a broad range of professions, but it can also help us understand patterns in nature and society, and even predict future behavior. The power of differentiation lies in its ability to split complex problems into smaller parts, understand the nature of change, and glimpse into the future.

In today's digital age, the concept of differentiation becomes imperative for computer algorithms that involve optimization, artificial intelligence, machine learning, and data mining. Whether it's refining search engine algorithms or predicting stock market trends, the differentiation serves as a fundamental underpinning.

Recommended Resources

To begin your journey into the fascinating world of differentiation, following are the resources that can be used to understand and practice the concepts of differentiation:

  • James Stewart's book, "Calculus: Early Transcendentals" - A great introductory book on calculus that covers the basics of differentiation.
  • Khan Academy's course on Differential Calculus - A comprehensive online course with a plethora of video lessons and practice exercises on various topics of differentiation.
  • MIT OpenCourseWare's course on Single Variable Calculus - Includes video lectures and assignments to facilitate a deeper understanding of differential calculus.
  • Paul's Online Math Notes on Calculus I - Provides detailed notes and practice problems on differentiation.
  • 3Blue1Brown's Calculus series on YouTube - A visual approach to understanding calculus and differentiation.

Practical Activity: "Derivatives in Action"


The objective of this project is for students to understand and apply the concepts of differentiation in a real-world context. Students will model and analyze the behavior of an object under the influence of gravity in the physical world, using differentiation to calculate velocity and acceleration at various instances of time.

Group Size and Duration

The project will be conducted in groups of 3 to 5 members and is expected to take approximately 15 hours for each team member.

Necessary Materials

  • A high place from where an object can be dropped safely (such as a stairwell or a balcony)
  • A stopwatch for timing the fall of the object
  • An object to drop
  • Access to computer programming software (e.g., Python, Maple, or MATLAB)
  • Access to a spreadsheet program (e.g., Excel or Google Sheets)

Detailed Description of Project

Students will use calculus and physics to model the motion of a falling object under the influence of gravity. They will:

  1. Drop an object from a high place and record the time it takes to reach the ground. This will be done multiple times to obtain an average fall time.
  2. Use the known laws of physics and differentiation to model the object's velocity and acceleration as functions of time.
  3. Plot these functions using a spreadsheet program and/or a computer programming language.
  4. Analyze the behavior of the falling object through these plots.

Detailed Step-by-Step

  1. Gather the necessary materials.
  2. Find a suitable location and object to drop. Make sure to take safety precautions.
  3. Drop the object multiple times, recording the time it takes for the object to reach the ground each time.
  4. Calculate the average time taken for the object to reach the ground.
  5. Using this time and the known laws of physics, formulate equations for displacement, velocity, and acceleration of the falling object.
  6. Differentiate the displacement equation to obtain the velocity function, and the velocity equation to obtain the acceleration function.
  7. Use the appropriate software to plot the displacement, velocity, and acceleration functions over the duration of the fall.
  8. Analyze and discuss trends and patterns observed in these plots.
  9. Repeat the above steps for different objects, if desired, and compare the results.

Project Deliverables

In addition to the participation and contribution to the group work, each group will deliver a written document which should contain:

  1. Introduction: An overview of the project, why the concept of differentiation is important, its relevance in real-world physical phenomena like the motion of falling objects, and the objective of the project.
  2. Development: Discuss the law of free fall and the equations used to model it. Detail the process of data collection and how averages were calculated. Explain step-by-step the process of differentiating the displacement equation to obtain velocity and acceleration functions. Give a detailed account of the software and techniques used to plot these functions, and present these plots with appropriate labels and annotations.
  3. Conclusion: This section should discuss the findings from the project, including patterns observed, insights gained about the motion of falling bodies and the role of differentiation in understanding and predicting such motion. The students should highlight the skills they learned over the course of the project.
  4. Bibliography: List all sources used to design the experiment, derive the equations, solve the problems, and understand the theory.

This written document should be neatly organized, free of grammatical errors, and written in a scholarly fashion.

The project encourages students to apply their knowledge in a practical way while also fostering important skills such as problem-solving, collaboration, and communication. The written document will support the development of research, writing, and presentation skills. It will offer a tangible outcome that demonstrates their understanding and application of differentiation in a real-world scenario.

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