In Topic A of Module 5, students learn the concept of a function and why functions are necessary for describing geometric concepts and occurrences in everyday life. The module begins by explaining the important role functions play in making predictions. For example, if an object is dropped, a function allows us to determine its height at a specific time. To this point, our work has relied on assumptions of constant rates; here, students are given data that shows that objects do not always travel at a constant speed. Once we explain the concept of a function, we then provide a formal definition of function. A function is defined as an assignment to each input, exactly one output (8.F.A.1). Students learn that the assignment of some functions can be described by a mathematical rule or formula. With the concept and definition firmly in place, students begin to work with functions in real-world contexts. For example, students relate constant speed and other proportional relationships (8.EE.B.5) to linear functions. Next, students consider functions of discrete and continuous rates and understand the difference between the two. For example, we ask students to explain why they can write a cost function for a book, but they cannot input 2.6 into the function and get an accurate cost as the output.
Students apply their knowledge of linear equations and their graphs from Module 4 (8.EE.B.5, 8.EE.B.6) to graphs of linear functions. Students know that the definition of a graph of a function is the set of ordered pairs consisting of an input and the corresponding output (8.F.A.1). Students relate a function to an input-output machine: a number or piece of data, goes into the machine, known as the input, and a number or piece of data comes out of the machine, known as the output. In Module 4, students learned that a linear equation graphs as a line and that all lines are graphs of linear equations. In Module 5, students inspect the rate of change of linear functions and conclude that the rate of change is the slope of the graph of a line. They learn to interpret the equation y = mx + b (8.EE.B.6) as defining a linear function whose graph is a line (8.F.A.3). Students will also gain some experience with non-linear functions, specifically by compiling and graphing a set of ordered pairs, and then by identifying the graph as something other than a straight line.
Once students understand the graph of a function, they begin comparing two functions represented in different ways (8.EE.C.8), similar to comparing proportional relationships in Module 4. For example, students are presented with the graph of a function and a table of values that represent a function, and are then asked to determine which function has the greater rate of change (8.F.A.2). Students are also presented with functions in the form of an algebraic equation or written description. In each case, students examine the average rate of change and know that the one with the greater rate of change must overtake the other at some point.