# Tagged Questions

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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### Why is negative times negative = positive?

Someone recently asked me why a negative $\times$ a negative is positive, and why a negative $\times$ a positive is negative, etc. I went ahead and gave them a proof by contradiction like so: Assume ...
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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 ...
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### 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 ...
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### 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 ...
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### 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 ...
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### 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 "best"...
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### 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 — ...
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### Visually stunning math concepts which are easy to explain

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 ...
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### 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 ...
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### 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 Lament,...
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### 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 ...
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### 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 ...
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### 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 ...
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### 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 ...
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### 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 ...
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### 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?
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### 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 ...
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### 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 ...
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### 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 ...
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### 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 ...
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### Show $\lim\limits_{h\to 0} \frac{(a^h-1)}{h}$ exists without l'Hôpital or even referencing $e$ or natural log

Taking as our definition of exponentiation repeated multiplication (extended to real exponents by continuity), can we show that the limit $$\lim_{h\to 0}\dfrac{a^h-1}{h}$$ exists, without l'Hôpital,...
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### Prison problem: locking or unlocking every $n$th door for $n=1,2,3,…$

I have a problem called "The Prison Problem" that I need to explain to my 9-year-old cousin. I would think that he has just started learning about divisors and perfect squares, and as such, I have a ...
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### Interesting “real life” applications of serious theorems

As student in mathematics, 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: ...
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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 ...
212k 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 ...
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### 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 ...
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### 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, ...
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### Explaining Horizontal Shifting and Scaling

I always find myself wanting for a clear explanation (to a college algebra student) for the fact that horizontal transformations of graphs work in the opposite way that one might expect. For example, ...
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### 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 ...
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### 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 ...
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### Infinite Series: Fibonacci/ $2^n$

I presented the following problem to some of my students recently (from Senior Mathematical Challenge- edited by Gardiner) In the Fibonacci sequence $1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55,\ldots$ each ...
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### 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 ...
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### Some maps of the land of mathematics?

This question is motivated by a little anecdote. I was at home teaching some secondary school math to a relative. At some relax time, he glanced at a book I had over the table - it was some text about ...
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### 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
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### 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 ...
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### 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 + \...
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### 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 ...
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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 ...