My Favorite One-Liners: Part 104

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.

I use today’s quip when discussing the Taylor series expansions for sine and/or cosine:

\sin x = x - \displaystyle \frac{x^3}{3!} + \frac{x^5}{5!} - \frac{x^7}{7!} \dots

\cos x = 1 - \displaystyle \frac{x^2}{2!} + \frac{x^4}{4!} - \frac{x^6}{6!} \dots

To try to convince students that these intimidating formulas are indeed correct, I’ll ask them to pull out their calculators and compute the first three terms of the above expansion for $x=0.2$, and then compute \sin 0.2. The results:

This generates a pretty predictable reaction, “Whoa; it actually works!” Of course, this shouldn’t be a surprise; calculators actually use the Taylor series expansion (and a few trig identity tricks) when calculating sines and cosines. So, I’ll tell my class,

It’s not like your calculator draws a right triangle, takes out a ruler to measure the lengths of the opposite side and the hypotenuse, and divides to find the sine of an angle.


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