In this series, I’m compiling some of the quips and one-liners that I’ll use with my students to hopefully make my lessons more memorable for them.

One of the most common student mistakes with logarithms is thinking that

.

Whenever students make this mistake, I call it the Third Classic Blunder. The first classic blunder, of course, is getting into a major land war in Asia. The second classic blunder is getting into a battle of wits with a Sicilian when death is on the line. And the third classic blunder is thinking that somehow simplfies as .

Sadly, as the years pass, fewer and fewer students immediately get the cultural reference. On the bright side, it’s also an opportunity to introduce a new generation to one of the great cinematic masterpieces of all time.

One of my colleagues calls this mistake the Universal Distributive Law, where the distributes just as if was being multiplied by a constant. Other mistakes in this vein include and .

Along the same lines, other classic blunders are thinking that

simplifies as

and that

simplifies as .

I’m continually amazed at the number of good students who intellectually know that the above equations are false but panic and use them when solving a problem.

I'm a Professor of Mathematics and a University Distinguished Teaching Professor at the University of North Texas. For eight years, I was co-director of Teach North Texas, UNT's program for preparing secondary teachers of mathematics and science.
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