For questions related to the teaching and learning of mathematics. Note that Mathematics Educators Stack Exchange may be a better home for narrowly scoped questions on specific issues in mathematics education.

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54
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9answers
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How to effectively study math?

Maybe this is too general for here, but I am having a lot of difficulty studying math. Just got out of the military and I guess I am not use to this yet but when I run into a problem I have trouble ...
54
votes
15answers
6k views

How can I introduce complex numbers to precalculus students?

I teach a precalculus course almost every semester, and over these semesters I've found various things that work quite well. For example, when talking about polynomials and rational functions, in ...
51
votes
9answers
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What is the meaning of the third derivative of a function at a point

(Originally asked on MO by AJAY.) What is the geometric, physical, or other meaning of the third derivative of a function at a point? If you have interesting things to say about the meaning of the ...
49
votes
24answers
11k views

“Negative” versus “Minus”

As a math educator, do you think it is appropriate to insist that students say "negative $0.8$" and not "minus $0.8$" to denote $-0.8$? The so called "textbook answer" regarding this question reads: ...
49
votes
13answers
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Interesting math-facts that are visually attractive

To give a talk to 17-18 years old (who have a knack for mathematics) about how interesting mathematics (and more specifically pure mathematics) can be, I wanted to use nice facts accompanied by nice ...
49
votes
3answers
12k views

What is the importance of Calculus in today's Mathematics?

For engineering (e. g. electrical engineering) and physics, Calculus is important. But for a future mathematician, is the classical approach to Calculus still important? What is normally taught, as a ...
49
votes
8answers
2k views

How to maintain enthusiasm and joy in teaching when the material grows stale

I recently finished my third semester of teaching calculus to freshman college students. This means I was drawing the same pictures, solving the same example problems, and discussing the same ...
48
votes
14answers
5k views

Do we need to formally teach the Greek Alphabet? [closed]

This is a question that I am purely interested in because I think we never thought about this before in Mathematics education... or even so was not discussed. When did we learn the Greek alphabets ...
47
votes
17answers
2k views

What are some math books written in dialogue or story form, e.g., a teacher explaining to a student?

Good examples would be The Square Root of 2 by David Flannery or Math Girls by Hiroshi Yuki.
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13answers
5k views

Research done by high-school students

I'm giving a talk soon to a group of high-school students about open problems in mathematics that high-school students could understand. To inspire them, I would like to give them examples of ...
45
votes
2answers
7k views

When does L' Hopital's rule fail?

This thought jumped out of me during my calculus teaching seminar. It is well known that the classical L'Hospital rule claims that for the $\frac{0}{0}$ indeterminate case, we have: $$ ...
42
votes
12answers
2k views

Examples of results failing in higher dimensions

A number of economists do not appreciate rigor in their usage of mathematics and I find it very discouraging. One of the examples of rigor-lacking approach are proofs done via graphs or pictures ...
42
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12answers
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Refuting the Anti-Cantor Cranks

I occasionally have the opportunity to argue with anti-Cantor cranks, people who for some reason or the other attack the validity of Cantor's diagonalization proof of the uncountability of the real ...
41
votes
19answers
57k views

How do I explain 2 to the power of zero equals 1 to a child

My daughter is stuck on the concept that $$2^0 = 1,$$ having the intuitive expectation that it be equal to zero. I have tried explaining it, but I guess not well enough. How would you explain the ...
40
votes
11answers
4k views

Does “Doing a thing to both sides of an equation” have a name?

A two part question. 1 True or False: when working with an equation or inequality, everything that you do is either: a substitution, or an operation performed on each side Note that algebraic or ...
39
votes
7answers
3k views

Why is there antagonism towards extended real numbers?

In my backstory, I was introduced to the geometric concept of infinity rather young, through reading about the inversive plane. In the course of learning calculus, I'm pretty sure I formed a concept ...
39
votes
3answers
17k views

Self-study Real analysis Tao or Rudin?

The reference requests for analysis books have become so numerous as to blot out any usefulness they could conceivably have had. So here come another one. Recently I've began to learn real analysis ...
39
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0answers
4k views

Explaining to a kid why a negative × negative = positive? [duplicate]

My son's just turning 8 this year and has just started to learn some of the basics of multiplications, including multiplication signs. However, he's started asking me why a negative multiplied by ...
38
votes
3answers
2k views

Why the emphasis on Projective Space in Algebraic Geometry?

I have no doubt this is a basic question. However, I am working through Miranda's book on Riemann surfaces and algebraic curves, and it has yet to be addressed. Why does Miranda (and from what little ...
37
votes
26answers
6k views

How to teach mathematical induction?

Some students are not convinced that a proof by mathematical induction is a proof. I have given the analogy of dominoes toppling but still some remain unconvinced. Is there very convincing way of ...
37
votes
19answers
9k views

Examples of mathematical induction

What are the best examples of mathematical induction available at the secondary-school level---totally elementary---that do not involve expressions of the form $\bullet+\cdots\cdots\cdots+\bullet$ ...
37
votes
6answers
1k views

Need a result of Euler that is simple enough for a child to understand

Talking to my 8 yr old about "the greatest mathematician of all time", I said it was probably Gauss in my opinion, but that Gauss was not very kind to his kids (for example, forbidding them to go into ...
37
votes
8answers
4k views

Very *mathematical* general physics book

I am searching for a book to study physics. So far, I've been suggested Resnick, Halliday, Krane, Physics, but it doesn't seem to be very suited for a math major. Can you suggest some more ...
37
votes
21answers
3k views

Mathematics problems for very young children?

This is a tall order, but since this site is for everything mathematical, here goes: What are some nice games/puzzles/problems/problem-like activities that would be appropriate for a three-five year ...
37
votes
1answer
918 views

What did mathematicians study as an undergraduate/graduate before modern mathematics such as modern algebra and analysis?

I am curious as to what mathematicians such as Leibnitz and Gauss and the Bernoulli's studied when they were students in university. I find it fascinating how we are taught calculus and abstract ...
35
votes
13answers
2k views

How To Present Algebraic Topology To Non-Mathematicians?

I am writing my master thesis in algebraic topology (fundamental groups) and as a system in my school students must write about one page about their theses explaining for non mathematicians the ...
35
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7answers
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What are some good math specific study habits?

What are/ were some of your good mathematician's study habits that you found really worked for you? I'm a CS major at a respected school and have a solid GPA... However, I definitely lack when it ...
34
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10answers
3k views

Becoming Better at Math

How can I become excellent at math? It really interests me but when I fail I become demotivated and begin to give up. EDIT: Could anyone suggest books for someone with a math education that just ...
34
votes
12answers
2k views

Resources for a curious beginner mathematician

I have a friend whose experience of math in school was horrible (each teacher, she says, either left or was fired the year after she had them). I've been teaching her about various things: cantor's ...
34
votes
8answers
7k views

How can I learn to “read maths” at a University level?

When I look at math, it's like my mind goes fuzzy. The only way to describe it is in terms of what I can relate it to. You know how when you read, you see the letters and words, but your brain picks ...
32
votes
10answers
3k views

explaining the derivative of $x^x$

You set the following exercise to your calculus class: Q1. Differentiate $y(x) = x^x$. A student submits the following solution: Let $g(a)=a^x$ and $f(x)=x$. Then $y(x) = g(f(x))$, so by ...
32
votes
3answers
1k views

English words in written mathematics

I recently marked over $100$ assignments for a multivariable calculus course. One question which a lot of people did poorly was proving a given set was open. Aside from issues relating to rigour and ...
31
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20answers
4k views

Good math bed-time stories for children?

What are some good references/books/articles from which to derive some good bed-time math stories to pique a child's interest in math? I am fascinated by math (used to hate it as a kid) and want my ...
31
votes
7answers
3k views

Why does topology rarely come up outside of topology?

I am currently taking topology and it seems like a completely different branch of math than anything else I have encountered previously. I find it a little strange that things are not defined more ...
31
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7answers
2k views

Quotient geometries known in popular culture, such as “flat torus = Asteroids video game”

In answering a question I mentioned the Asteroids video game as an example -- at one time, the canonical example -- of a locally flat geometry that is globally different from the Euclidean plane. It ...
31
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5answers
5k views

How to pick a thesis advisor?

This sort of question is probably in bad taste for math.stackexchange, but is probably in high demand. (I tried to start a site on Area 51 to house questions like this, but my request was closed due ...
31
votes
3answers
2k views

Create a Huge Problem

I am wondering if any problems have been designed that test a wide range of mathematical skills. For example, I remember doing the integral $$\int \sqrt{\tan x}\;\mathrm{d}x$$ and being impressed at ...
31
votes
3answers
1k views

Non-Euclidean Geometry for Children

I should've asked this question two years ago when my son (at that time, 9 years old) came to me and said: "Dad, today in school our teacher drew a line on a paper and said this is a straight line, it ...
30
votes
10answers
6k views

How do you define functions for non-mathematicians?

I'm teaching a College Algebra class in the upcoming semester, and only a small portion of the students will be moving on to further mathematics. The class is built around functions, so I need to ...
29
votes
6answers
2k views

How to tell $i$ from $-i$?

Suppose now we are trying to explain to students who do not know complex numbers, how do we distinguish $i$ and $-i$ to them? They will object that they both squared to $-1$ and thus they are ...
29
votes
9answers
3k views

Is this way of teaching how to solve equations dangerous somehow?

Two years ago, I bought the book Mathematics for the Nonmathematican, by Morris Kline. There I learned a new way of solving equations, which is related to the principle that states that any ...
29
votes
10answers
10k views

What is the (mathematical) point of straightedge and compass constructions?

The ancient discipline of construction by straightedge and compass is both fascinating and entertaining. But what is its significance in a mathematical sense? It is still taught in high school ...
29
votes
5answers
7k views

Math GRE Subject Exam [closed]

I am studying for the GRE Mathematics subject exam [1]. I am looking for tips regarding how to more effectively study for it. Does anyone know of any good study materials or have any tips in general? ...
29
votes
1answer
3k views

GRE past papers

As it is required for most students who wish to do a Ph.D in maths in the US to sit the GRE subject specific mathematics exam, I hope this question will be of interest to the mathematical community ...
28
votes
8answers
3k views

Active learning vs Passive learning in Math

I am trying to improve how I learn in general but specifically in math and a common suggestion I keep coming across is the difference between active learning and passive learning. The problem is, most ...
28
votes
14answers
938 views

Examples where it is easier to prove more than less

Especially (but not only) in the case of induction proofs, it happens that a stronger claim $B$ is easier to prove than the intended claim $A$ (e.g. since the induction hypothesis gives you more ...
28
votes
6answers
1k views

Why do new rules cause students to forget and misapply older rules?

I teach at a community college. I have taught everything from arithmetic to linear algebra. I have also taught at 4-year schools, but at present, I'm devoting my energies to the problem of helping ...
28
votes
6answers
5k views

Is a good GRE score enough for a non-math graduate to be accepted in a decent pure mathematics graduate program?

I have a computer engineering degree , and i have studied several mathematics courses like single variable and multiples variables calculus , complex variables , probability , numerical analysis ... ...
28
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6answers
2k views

Should I understand a theorem's proof before using the theorem?

I find myself embarrassed when using results in books. For example, there are so many results in Sobolev spaces that I think I would not be able to understand all of them. Yes, I could try to ...
28
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7answers
10k views

How to study for analysis?

I am currently a first year undergraduate majoring in mathematics. I'm taking an introductory analysis course and find it very hard compared to other math couses. I know that the topics covered in the ...