Inside Collection (Course): Precalculus with Engineering Applications
Summary: This module provides the description of what a function is.
A function is neither a number nor a variable: it is a process for turning one number into another. For instance, “Double and then add 6” is a function. If you put a 4 into that function, it comes out with a 14. If you put a
The traditional image of a function is a machine, with a slot on one side where numbers go in and a slot on the other side where numbers come out.


The point of this image is that the function is not the numbers, but the machine itself—the process, not the results of the process.
The primary purpose of “The Function Game” that you play on Day 1 is to get across this idea of a numerical process. In this game, one student (the “leader”) is placed in the role of a function. “Whenever someone gives you a number, you double that number, add 6, and give back the result.” It should be very clear, as you perform this role, that you are not modeling a number, a variable, or even a list of numbers. You are instead modeling a process—or an algorithm, or a recipe—for turning numbers into other numbers. That is what a function is.
The function game also contains some more esoteric functions: “Respond with –3 no matter what number you are given,” or “Give back the lowest prime number that is greater than or equal to the number you were given.” Students playing the function game often ask “Can a function do that?” The answer is always yes (with one caveat mentioned below). So another purpose of the function game is to expand your idea of what a function can do. Any process that consistently turns numbers into other numbers, is a function.
By the way—having defined the word “function” I just want to say something about the word “equation.” An “equation” is when you “equate” two things—that is to say, set them equal. So
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