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

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310
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35answers
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Do complex numbers really exist?

Complex numbers involve the square root of negative one, and most non-mathematicians find it hard to accept that such a number is meaningful. In contrast, they feel that real numbers have an obvious ...
54
votes
17answers
17k views

Why is negative times negative = positive?

Someone recently asked me why a negative * a negative is positive, and why a negative * a positive is negative, etc. I went ahead and gave them a proof by contradiction like so: Assume $(-x) * (-y) ...
12
votes
4answers
1k views

Motivation behind the definition of GCD and LCM

According to me, I can find the GCD of two integers (say $a$ and $b$) by finding all the common factors of them, and then finding the maximum of all these common factors. This also justifies the ...
50
votes
1answer
2k views

Is Lagrange's theorem the most basic result in finite group theory?

Motivated by this question, can one prove that the order of an element in a finite group divides the order of the group without using Lagrange's theorem? (Or, equivalently, that the order of the group ...
68
votes
24answers
27k views

What is a good complex analysis textbook?

I'm out of college, and trying to learn complex analysis on my own. I took out Ahlfors' text from the library, but I'm finding it difficult. Any textbook recommendations? I'm probably at an ...
93
votes
9answers
6k views

Why is Euler's Gamma function the “best” extension of the factorial function to the reals?

There are lots (an infinitude) of smooth functions that coincide with f(n)=n! on the integers. Is there a simple reason why Euler's Gamma function $\Gamma (z) = \int_0^\infty t^{z-1} e^t dt$ is ...
592
votes
48answers
386k views

Visually stunning math concepts which are easy to explain [closed]

Since I'm not that good at (as I like to call it) 'die-hard-mathematics', I've always liked concepts like the golden ratio or the dragon curve, which are easy to understand and explain, but are ...
550
votes
153answers
34k views

What was the first bit of mathematics that made you realize that math is beautiful? (For children's book)

I'm a children's book writer and illustrator, and I want to to create a book for young readers that exposes the beauty of mathematics. I recently read Paul Lockhart's essay "The Mathematician's ...
3
votes
4answers
466 views

Factoring $ac$ to factor $ax^2+bx+c$

I was watching a first-year high-school-algebra student struggle with factoring quadratics last night. Given a quadratic $ax^2+bx+c$ (I'll give you the exact example in a moment), her method — ...
49
votes
4answers
6k views

Do you prove all theorems whilst studying?

When you come across a new theorem, do you always try to prove it first before reading the proof within the text? I'm a CS undergrad with a bit of an interest in maths. I've not gone very far in my ...
29
votes
3answers
1k 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 ...
50
votes
14answers
12k views

How to effectively and efficiently learn mathematics

How do you effectively study mathematics? How does one read a maths book instead or just staring at it for hours? (Apologies in advance if the question is ill-posed or too subjective in its current ...
55
votes
22answers
6k views

What is your favorite application of the Pigeonhole Principle?

The pigeonhole principle states that if $n$ items are put into $m$ "pigeonholes" with $n > m$, then at least one pigeonhole must contain more than one item. I'd like to see your favorite ...
16
votes
1answer
624 views

Alternative construction of the tensor product (or: pass this secret)

The paper Tensor products and bimorphisms by B. Banachewski and E. Nelson studies tensor products (defined by classifying bimorphisms) in concrete categories. It is quite interesting that their main ...
47
votes
9answers
7k views

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 ...
7
votes
4answers
1k views

Expanding problem solving skill

I have a great passion for Math but my lack in problem solving skill always keeps me away from the "good stuff". I always wanted to be better at Math and one of the things I figured out was to keep ...
7
votes
7answers
4k views

Easiest and most complex proof of $\gcd (a,b) \times \operatorname{lcm} (a,b) =ab.$

I'm looking for an understandable proof of this theorem, and also a complex one involving beautiful math techniques such as analytic number theory, or something else. I hope you can help me on that. ...
54
votes
8answers
8k views

When to learn category theory?

I'm a undergraduate who wishes to learn category theory but I only have basic knowledge of linear algebra and set theory, I've also had a short course on number theory which used some basic concepts ...
37
votes
19answers
8k 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 $\bullet+\cdots\cdots\cdots+\bullet$ ...
250
votes
33answers
33k views

Pedagogy: How to cure students of the “law of universal linearity”?

One of the commonest mistakes made by students, appearing at every level of maths education up to about early undergraduate, is the so-called “Law of Universal Linearity”: $$ \frac{1}{a+b} ...
45
votes
9answers
17k views

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 ...
77
votes
19answers
12k views

How do you explain the concept of logarithm to a five year old?

Okay I understand that it cannot be explained to a 5 year old. But, how do you explain the logarithm to primary school students?
8
votes
4answers
944 views

What are or where can I find style guidelines for writing math?

I am a scientist writing my first manuscript with a substantial amount of mathematical methodological documentation. I am using LaTeX, but this is not my question. I would like to find a list of ...
17
votes
7answers
6k views

How to show every subgroup of a cyclic group is cyclic?

I'm teaching a group theory course now, and I wanted to give my students a proof that every subgroup of a cyclic group is cyclic. The easiest way I could think to do this is to say that any cyclic ...
23
votes
6answers
5k views

Complete undergraduate bundle-pack [closed]

First of all I'm sorry if this is not the right place to post this. I like math a lot. But I'm not sure if i want to do a math major in college. My question is: Can you give me a list of books that ...
113
votes
7answers
164k views

How many sides does a circle have?

My son is in 2nd grade. His math teacher gave the class a quiz, and one question was this: If a triangle has 3 sides, and a rectangle has 4 sides, how many sides does a circle have? My first ...
41
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 ...
23
votes
2answers
3k views

Books to study for Math GRE, self-study, have some time.

I just graduated from a regional university in the US with a minor in mathematics. There is a masters program overseas, for economics, that I want to attend but they require applicants to take the ...
29
votes
11answers
5k 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 ...
17
votes
9answers
3k views

Motivating infinite series

What are some good ways to motivate the material on infinite series that appears at the end of a typical American Calculus II course? My students in this course are generally from biochemistry, ...
55
votes
9answers
26k views

Why is $\pi $ equal to $3.14159…$?

Wait before you dismiss this as a crank question :) A friend of mine teaches school kids, and the book she uses states something to the following effect: If you divide the circumference of any ...
15
votes
2answers
5k views

Path to Basics in Algebraic Geometry from HS Algebra and Calculus?

In this question, Why study Algebraic Geometry?, Javier Álvarez, develops a succint but encompassing description of algebraic geometry and its spread across different areas of mathematics. Indeed, it ...
33
votes
19answers
36k 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 ...
31
votes
8answers
5k 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 ...
8
votes
7answers
1k views

Can this standard calculus result be explained “intuitively”

Recently I stumbled upon someone who said he wanted to understand why $\arctan x = \int\dfrac{dx}{1+x^2}$ At first I was confused. This is an easy result in any integral calculus course. But then he ...
20
votes
4answers
6k views

Bridging any “gaps” between AP Calculus and College/Univ level Calculus II

I've been asked to tutor a soon-to-be college freshman who has taken AP Calculus and successfully earned college credit for first semester calculus. He has been admitted to an Engineering program, ...
16
votes
4answers
1k views

Fun math for young, bored kids?

For 6 months, I'll be organizing, as part as my volunteer work in an NGO, math classes with small groups (~10 students, aged 16 or 17). These classes are not compulsory, but students willing to stay ...
15
votes
5answers
9k views

Which calculus text should I use for self-study?

I am 36 years old, and have forgotten a lot of math from high school, of which I only took up to Algebra 2. However I am teaching myself mathematics and am now, as an adult, completely fascinated ...
6
votes
5answers
908 views

Differential Geometry of curves and surfaces: bibliography?

Dear all, next year, I will probably teach a one-semester course of Differential Geomtry of curves and surfaces. Its content must be something along the lines of the first four chapters of Do Carmo's ...
5
votes
4answers
1k views

Albert, Bernard and Cheryl popular question (Please comment on my theory)

Here is the problem, I think that there is one point that makes the question ambiguous, I think they should explicitly say the reason why Albert knows that Bernard does not know the date. Case 1: ...
10
votes
4answers
999 views

Is there a more efficient method of trig mastery than rote memorization?

I would like to get alot better at trig than I am. What is the best/most efficient method? Thanks much in advance Joe
9
votes
6answers
3k views

What is the best base to use?

When I typed this question in google I found this link: http://octomatics.org/ Just from the graphic point of view: this system seems to be easier (when he explains that you can overlap the line). He ...
3
votes
4answers
933 views

Linear combinations of sine and cosine

If you take a linear combination of the cosine and sine function, then the result is again a sinusoid, but with a new amplitude and phase shift. $$a \cos(\theta) + b \sin(\theta) = A \cos(\theta + ...
73
votes
15answers
16k views

Mathematical equivalent of Feynman's Lectures on Physics?

I'm slowly reading through Feynman's Lectures on Physics and I find myself wondering, is there an analogous book (or books) for math?
74
votes
5answers
3k views

“Advice to young mathematicians”

I have been suggested to read the Advice to a Young Mathematician section of the Princeton Companion to Mathematics, the short paper Ten Lessons I wish I had been Taught by Gian-Carlo Rota, and the ...
90
votes
20answers
18k views

Visually deceptive “proofs” which are mathematically wrong

Related: Visually stunning math concepts which are easy to explain Beside the wonderful examples above, there should also be counterexamples, where visually intuitive demonstrations are actually ...
58
votes
17answers
8k views

Interesting “real life” applications of serious theorems

As a student one sometimes encounters exercises which ask you to solve a rather funny "real life problem", e.g. I recall an exercise on the Krein-Milman theorem which was something like: "You have a ...
33
votes
7answers
4k views

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 ...
23
votes
11answers
2k views

Puzzles or short exercises illustrating mathematical problem solving to freshman students

At high school, the solution method to almost all mathematical exercises is to apply some technique or algorithm you have learned before. At the university, the situation is fundamentally different. ...
50
votes
15answers
5k 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 ...