College Math Resources

(previously hosted at [Logo]   Langara College - Department of Mathematics and Statistics )

Internet Resources for the Calculus Student - Topics in Precalculus

The Real Number System

The Number Line

Since the Real Numbers were invented to account for all possible measurements along a line, it is not surprising that we can understand a lot about them in terms of a picture of such a line.

<clicking on the picture used to go to an interactive version - sadly now broken>

In fact relative to any choice of a fixed starting point (often called the Origin), with a unit of measurement, and a specified direction, each point on the line can be located by specifying exactly one real number (with magnitude equal to its number of units from the origin and sign being positive in the given direction and negative in the opposite direction). The key points are the Origin (which corresponds to the number 0), and the point one unit away in the "positive" direction (which corresponds to the number 1).

Once 0 and 1 have been placed on the line, this forces everything else:

First the positive whole numbers correspond to repeated steps the same as from 0 to 1
Then the rest of the integers going the other way
Then fractional steps for the rationals
But that's not all!

There are in fact positions on the line which do not correspond to any exact fractional number of steps no matter how tiny the fractions we use. The numbers corresponding to these positions are called "irrational" (because they are not ratios of integers).

Related Links:

There are many sites where these ideas are discussed. (Unfortunately many academic sites are short lived and so many of the links are broken)

SFU's Centre for Experimental and Constructive Mathematics used to include RevEng pages include  java applets that will "reverse engineer" any decimal you type in, and try to find simple expressions whose values agree with your number.

Some of that capability is still available at an archive of their Inverse Symbolic Calculator, and there are now several other tools avaialble for performing the same task.

 If you have come across any good web-based illustrations of these and related concepts,
     please do let us know and we will add them here.