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Questions tagged [education]

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.

114
votes
40answers
51k views

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 ...
456
votes
36answers
58k views

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 ...
21
votes
4answers
3k 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 ...
70
votes
1answer
4k 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 ...
152
votes
7answers
12k 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 the ...
1166
votes
67answers
494k 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 ...
63
votes
9answers
49k 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 ...
17
votes
8answers
21k 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. ...
5
votes
2answers
5k views

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 ...
347
votes
33answers
42k 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} \mathrel{\...
74
votes
24answers
12k 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 ...
33
votes
3answers
4k 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 ...
26
votes
17answers
14k views

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, ...
16
votes
5answers
3k views

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,...
4
votes
4answers
744 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 — ...
31
votes
2answers
12k 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 ...
668
votes
164answers
49k views

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

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,...
61
votes
9answers
13k views

How to effectively study math? [closed]

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 ...
72
votes
4answers
12k 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 ...
44
votes
19answers
14k 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 $\bullet+\cdots\cdots\cdots+\bullet$ ...
16
votes
1answer
1k 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 ...
73
votes
14answers
24k views

How to effectively and efficiently learn mathematics [closed]

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 ...
102
votes
8answers
18k 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 ...
8
votes
4answers
3k 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 ...
69
votes
9answers
36k 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 ...
152
votes
8answers
9k 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 ...
17
votes
4answers
2k 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
3answers
4k views

Infinite Series: Fibonacci/ $2^n$ [duplicate]

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 ...
34
votes
6answers
15k 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 ...
64
votes
17answers
16k views

Interesting “real life” applications of serious theorems [closed]

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: ...
46
votes
7answers
29k 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 ...
35
votes
10answers
7k 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 ...
19
votes
7answers
9k 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 ...
33
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 ...
20
votes
8answers
14k views

Which calculus text should a 36-year-old 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, completely fascinated with the logic ...
15
votes
13answers
5k views

How to explain the formula for the sum of a geometric series without calculus?

How to explain to a middle-school student the notion of a geometric series without any calculus (i.e. limits)? For example I want to convince my student that $$1 + \frac{1}{4} + \frac{1}{4^2} + \...
120
votes
25answers
25k 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 ...
171
votes
9answers
349k 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 ...
38
votes
6answers
9k views

Teaching Introductory Real Analysis

I am currently helping teach an introduction to real analysis course at UC Berkeley. The textbook we are using in Rudin's "Principles of Mathematical Analysis" (aka baby rudin). I am trying to find ...
39
votes
26answers
2k views

What are some surprising appearances of $e$?

I recently came across the following beautiful and seemingly out-of-the-blue appearance of $e$: $E[\xi]=e$, where $\xi$ is a random variable that is defined as follows. It's the minimum number of $...
90
votes
19answers
17k 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?
60
votes
15answers
7k 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 ...
54
votes
9answers
4k 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 ...
46
votes
12answers
3k 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 ...
21
votes
10answers
7k 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, ...
16
votes
6answers
2k views

Simple Proof of the Euler Identity $\exp{i\theta}=\cos{\theta}+i\sin{\theta}$

My question is too simple. We know all that if we define the exponential function on $\mathbb{C}$ then we define the real part and imaginary part of $\exp{it}$ as $\cos{t}$ and $\sin{t}$. So if we ...
19
votes
7answers
23k views

practical uses of matrix multiplication

The use of matrix multiplication is usually given with graphics initially (scalings, translations, rotations, etc). Then there are more in-depth examples such as counting the number of walks between ...
14
votes
8answers
26k views

Explain why perpendicular lines have negative reciprocal slopes

I am not sure how to explain this. I just know they have negative reciprocals because one one line will have a positive slope while the other negative.
13
votes
5answers
2k views

What mistakes, if any, were made in Numberphile's proof that $1+2+3+\cdots=-1/12$?

This is not a duplicate question because I am looking for an explanation directed to a general audience as to the mistakes (if any) in Numberphile's proof (reproduced below). (Numberphile is a YouTube ...
10
votes
1answer
729 views

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 ...