Questions related to the teaching and learning of mathematics.

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385
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131answers
23k 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 ...
320
votes
41answers
139k views

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 ...
209
votes
32answers
30k 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} ...
114
votes
31answers
11k views

Stopping the “Will I need this for the test” question [closed]

I am a college professor in the American education system and find that the major concern of my students is trying to determine the specific techniques or problems which I will ask on the exam. This ...
88
votes
6answers
2k views

What remains in student's mind

I'm a first year graduate student of mathematics and I have an important question. I like studying math and when I attend, a course I try to study in the best way possible, with different textbooks ...
87
votes
7answers
99k 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 ...
80
votes
11answers
10k views

How to convince a math teacher of this simple and obvious fact?

I have in my presence a mathematics teacher, who asserts that $$ \frac{a}{b} = \frac{c}{d} $$ Implies: $$ a = c, \space b=d $$ She has been shown in multiple ways why this is not true: $$ ...
77
votes
19answers
3k views

Good Physical Demonstrations of Abstract Mathematics

I like to use physical demonstrations when teaching mathematics (putting physics in the service of mathematics, for once, instead of the other way around), and it'd be great to get some more ideas to ...
77
votes
9answers
4k 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 ...
74
votes
19answers
12k 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 ...
73
votes
3answers
8k views

Topology: The Board Game

Edit: I've drawn up some different rules, a map and some cards for playing an actual version of the game. They're available at my personal website with a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license. ...
65
votes
16answers
9k 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?
62
votes
15answers
11k 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?
62
votes
7answers
3k views

A Case Against the “Math Gene”

I'm currently teaching a mathematics course for elementary educators (think of it as math methods, but with less focus on methods and more focus on content). In a student's essay, I encountered the ...
59
votes
14answers
5k views

Should an undergrad accept that some things don't make sense, or study the foundation of mathematics to resolve this?

I'm a second year math student. And I've the following problem. When I prepare myself for an exam, I can distinguish two phases. First I'm mainly interested in whatever is necessary to pass the ...
58
votes
20answers
4k views

The Best of Dover Books (a.k.a the best cheap mathematical texts)

Perhaps this is a repeat question -- let me know if it is -- but I am interested in knowing the best of Dover mathematics books. The reason is because Dover books are very cheap and most other books ...
56
votes
6answers
2k views

How Do You Actually Do Your Mathematics?

Better yet, what I'm asking is how do you actually write your mathematics? I think I need to give brief background: Through most of my childhood, I'd considered myself pretty good at math, up ...
55
votes
23answers
10k views

How would you explain to a 9th grader the negative exponent rule?

Let us assume that the students haven't been exposed to these two rules: $a^{x+y} = a^{x}a^{y}$ and $\frac{a^x}{a^y} = a^{x-y}$. They have just been introduced to the generalization: $a^{-x} = ...
44
votes
13answers
5k views

Why do we need to learn integration techniques?

After a lifetime of approaching math the wrong way, I took two college math courses this quarter with a newfound zest for math. These classes are integral calc and multivariable calc. Integral calc ...
44
votes
12answers
3k 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 ...
44
votes
8answers
1k 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 ...
42
votes
11answers
3k views

Are all mathematicians human calculators?

I asked my dad why he did not major in math he said "because he is not good at math". I think I like math, and I think I'm ok at it, but I'm not gifted or anything like that, I just like math. I think ...
42
votes
3answers
6k 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 ...
40
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 ...
40
votes
23answers
12k 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 ...
39
votes
13answers
5k views

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 ...
39
votes
9answers
4k 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 ...
38
votes
9answers
10k 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 ...
37
votes
13answers
6k 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 ...
37
votes
8answers
4k 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 ...
36
votes
24answers
5k 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: ...
36
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 ...
36
votes
3answers
3k 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 ...
33
votes
12answers
1k 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 ...
32
votes
21answers
2k 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 ...
30
votes
22answers
2k views

Poems related to mathematics [closed]

I am supposed to be presenting a poem in my undergraduate math class, that relates to mathematics. The point of the presentation is to show the beauty of math , and the fun of it ,and also it will ...
30
votes
7answers
1k views

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 ...
30
votes
1answer
936 views

About Euclid's Elements and modern video games

I just watched this video about Euclid's treatise the Elements. I got introduced to the postulates and a couple of propositions of book I. I really liked this video, I'm not sure if this is because of ...
29
votes
12answers
1k 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 ...
28
votes
13answers
3k 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 ...
26
votes
5answers
3k 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 ...
26
votes
2answers
640 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 ...
24
votes
3answers
1k views

Good ways to help people learn math.

I have a student position at my university, which involves helping people who are struggling with basic calculus, precalculus, and discrete math. In general, the students that I help are hostile ...
23
votes
7answers
3k 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 ...
23
votes
4answers
3k views

Mind maps of Advanced Mathematics and various branches thereof

I would like to get a list of mind maps of advanced mathematics topics. As an example, I have posted one below. I would be happy if you post such other maps. Making one and posting it here is also ...
23
votes
1answer
455 views

How much math education was typical in the 18th & 19th century?

Was it unusual for people in those days to learn Calculus? Could a grad student take a course in differential equations or multi-variable Calculus, or did they have to learn from journals? I am always ...
22
votes
9answers
6k views

What is the (mathematical) point of geometric 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 ...
21
votes
14answers
2k views

If there are obvious things, why should we prove them?

Obviously, there are obvious things in mathematics. Why we should prove them? Prove that $\lim\limits_{n\to\infty}\dfrac{1}{n}=0$? Prove that $f(x)=x$ is continuous on $\mathbb{R}$? $\dotsc$ Just ...
21
votes
8answers
6k views

Are there contradictions in math?

Someone told me that math has a lot of contradictions. He said that a lot of things are not well defined. He told me two things that I do not know. $1+2+3+4+...=-1/12$ what is infinity $\infty$? ...
21
votes
6answers
934 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 ...