My Favorite One-Liners: Part 84

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.

Every once in a while, I’ll show my students that there’s a difficult way to do a problem that I don’t want them to do for homework. For example, here’s the direct derivation of the mean of the binomial distribution using only Precalculus; this would make an excellent homework problem for the Precalculus teacher who wants to torture his/her students:

E(X) = \displaystyle \sum_{k=0}^n k {n \choose k} p^k q^{n-k}

= \displaystyle \sum_{k=1}^n k  {n \choose k} p^k q^{n-k}

= \displaystyle \sum_{k=1}^n k  \frac{n!}{k!(n-k)!} p^k q^{n-k}

= \displaystyle \sum_{k=1}^n \frac{n!}{(k-1)!(n-k)!} p^k q^{n-k}

= \displaystyle \sum_{k=1}^n \frac{n (n-1)!}{(k-1)!(n-k)!} p^k q^{n-k}

= \displaystyle \sum_{i=0}^{n-1} \frac{n (n-1)!}{i!(n-1-i)!} p^{i+1} q^{n-1-i}

= \displaystyle np \sum_{i=0}^{n-1} \frac{(n-1)!}{i!(n-1-i)!} p^i q^{n-1-i}

= \displaystyle np(p+q)^{n-1}

= np \cdot 1^{n-1}


However, that’s a lot of work, and the way that I really want my students to do this, which is a lot easier (and which will be used throughout the semester), is by writing the binomial random variable as the sum of indicator random variables:

E(X) = E(I_1 + \dots + I_n) = E(I_1) + \dots + E(I_n) = p + \dots + p = np.

So, to reassure my students that they’re going to be asked to reproduce the above lengthy calculation, I’ll tell them that I wrote all that down for my own machismo, just to prove to them that I really could do it.

Since my physical presence exudes next to no machismo, this almost always gets a laugh.

2 thoughts on “My Favorite One-Liners: Part 84

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