This is an example of how an investigation into area optimisation could progress.  The problem is this:

A farmer has 40m of fencing.  What is the maximum area he can enclose?

Case 1:  The rectangle:

Reflection – the rectangle turns out to be a square, with sides 10m by 10m.  Therefore the area enclosed is 100 metres squared.

Case 2:  The circle:

Reflection:  The area enclosed is greater than that of the square – this time we have around 127 metres squared enclosed.

Case 3: The isosceles triangle:

Reflection – our isosceles triangle turns out to be an equilateral triangle, and it only encloses an area of around 77 metres squared.

Case 4, the n sided regular polygon

Reflection:  Given that we found the cases for a 3 sided and 4 sided shape gave us the regular shapes, it made sense to look for the n-sided regular polygon case.  If we try to plot the graph of the area against n we can see that for n ≥3 the graph has no maximum but gets gets closer to an asymptote.  By looking at the limit of this area (using Wolfram Alpha) as n gets large we can see that the limiting case is the circle. This makes sense as regular polygons become closer to circles the more sides they have.

Proof of the limit using L’Hospital’s Rule


Here we can prove that the limit is indeed 400/pi by using L’Hospital’s rule.  We have to use it twice and also use a trig identity for sin(2x) – but pleasingly it agrees with Wolfram Alpha.

So, a simple example of how an investigation can develop – from a simple case, getting progressively more complex and finishing with some HL Calculus Option mathematics.

Essential resources for IB students:

1) Revision Village

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Revision Village has been put together to help IB students with topic revision both for during the course and for the end of Year 12 school exams and Year 13 final exams.  I would strongly recommend students use this as a resource during the course (not just for final revision in Y13!) There are specific resources for HL and SL students for both Analysis and Applications.

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There is a comprehensive Questionbank takes you to a breakdown of each main subject area (e.g. Algebra, Calculus etc) and then provides a large bank of graded questions.  What I like about this is that you are given a difficulty rating, as well as a mark scheme and also a worked video tutorial.  Really useful!

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The Practice Exams section takes you to a large number of ready made quizzes, exams and predicted papers.   These all have worked solutions and allow you to focus on specific topics or start general revision.  This also has some excellent challenging questions for those students aiming for 6s and 7s.

Each course also has a dedicated video tutorial section which provides 5-15 minute tutorial videos on every single syllabus part – handily sorted into topic categories.

2) Exploration Guides and Paper 3 Resources

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I’ve put together four comprehensive pdf guides to help students prepare for their exploration coursework and Paper 3 investigations. The exploration guides talk through the marking criteria, common student mistakes, excellent ideas for explorations, technology advice, modeling methods and a variety of statistical techniques with detailed explanations. I’ve also made 17 full investigation questions which are also excellent starting points for explorations.  The Exploration Guides can be downloaded here and the Paper 3 Questions can be downloaded here.