Dabbing and the Pythagorean Theorem

I enjoyed this article from Fox Sports. Apparently, a French Precalculus textbook created a homework problem asking if football (soccer) superstar Paul Pogba is doing the perfect dab by creating two right triangles.



Photo courtesy of Dr. Fredrick Olness, a professor of physics at SMU:

Engaging students: Solving two-step algebra problems

In my capstone class for future secondary math teachers, I ask my students to come up with ideas for engaging their students with different topics in the secondary mathematics curriculum. In other words, the point of the assignment was not to devise a full-blown lesson plan on this topic. Instead, I asked my students to think about three different ways of getting their students interested in the topic in the first place.

I plan to share some of the best of these ideas on this blog (after asking my students’ permission, of course).

This student submission again comes from my former student Jessica Bonney. Her topic, from Pre-Algebra: solving two-step algebra problems.

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How could you as a teacher create an activity or project that involves your topic?

A great activity to use in the classroom with students for this topic would have to be algebra tiles. The tiles are a good manipulative that can be used to improve the students’ understanding and offer contact to representative manipulation for students that are more kinesthetic learners. The algebra tiles can be used to help justify and explain the process of solving two-step equations. They were developed on the basis of two ideas: (1) we can isolate variables by using “zero pairs” and (2) equations don’t change when equal amounts of tiles are used on both sides of the equation. Algebra tiles come in different colors and sizes, which can be used to represent different parts of an equation that can help students solve two-step algebra problems.  I think this would be a fun and interactive activity to help students learn and understand how to go about solving these types of problems.


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How can this topic be used in your students’ future courses in mathematics or science?

Once a student gets to a certain grade level, they constantly start building upon what they learn. This material can be carried into high school and even college level courses.  Before a student learns two-step equations, they must master one-step equations, and even before that they need to understand basic arithmetical operations. Once mastery has been achieved, students will move onto solving larger polynomials, which can later be used in future algebra, geometry, and calculus courses. Another interesting use for two-step algebra problems is for future science and even computer science courses. In science, let’s say physics or chemistry, the students can use the two-step method for solving how fast a ball fell from a rooftop or for solving how fast a chemical evaporated at a certain temperature. Now in computer science students can learn how to develop algebraic functions in a computerized setting.


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What interesting things can you say about the people who contributed to the discovery and/or the development of this topic?

Rene’ Descartes, born in March of 1596, was a French mathematician, philosopher, and scientist. He is widely known for the statement, “I think, therefore I am,” deriving it from the foundation of intuition that, when he thinks, he exists. After obtaining a degree in law, his father wanted him to join Parliament, but sadly he was only 20 and the minimum age to join was 27. In turn, he moved to the Netherlands where he was influenced to study science and mathematics. During this time he formulated a common method of logical reasoning, centered on mathematics, which can be related to all sciences. This method is discussed in Discourse on Method, and is comprised of four rules: “(1) accept nothing as true that is not self-evident, (2) divide problems into their simplest parts, (3) solve problems by proceeding from simple to complex, and (4) recheck the reasoning.” We use these rules everyday when directly apply them to mathematical procedures.



“Rene Descartes”. Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia

Britannica Inc., 2016. Web. 07 Sep. 2016 <https://www.britannica.com/biography/Rene-







Math Graduation Message

Source: https://www.instagram.com/p/BFMe-koR6ZC/

My Favorite One-Liners: Part 108

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.

Today’s post marks the final entry in this series. When I first came up with the idea of listing some of favorite classroom quips, I thought that this series might last a couple dozen posts. To my surprise, it instead lasted for more than 100 posts. I guess that, in my 21-year teaching career, I’ve slowly developed my own unique lexicon for communicating mathematical ideas, and perhaps this parallels (on a decidedly smaller scale) what a radio talk show host (like local legend Randy Galloway, who was a sports reporter/commentator in the Dallas/Fort Worth area for many years before retiring) does to build rapport with his/her audience.

I’ll use this final one-liner near the end of the semester when it’s time for students complete their evaluations of my teaching. Back in days of yore, professors would take 10-15 minutes to pass out paper copies of these evaluations, students would complete them, and that would be the end of it. In modern times, however, paper evaluations have switched to electronic evaluations, which are perhaps better for the environment but tend to have a decidedly lower response rate than the old paper evaluations. Still, I value my students’ feedback. So I’ll tell them:

Please fill out the student evaluation; the size of my raise depends on this.

After the laughter settles down, I’ll tell them, “Who’s joking?” I can’t say this happens everywhere, but I can honestly say that my department’s executive committee does consider student evaluations of teaching when deciding on the quality of my teaching, and that partially determines the size of my annual merit raise. (The committee also considers other indicators of good teaching other than student evaluations.)

It’s important to note that I don’t tell my students to give me a good evaluation; I just ask them to fill it out and to be honest with their feedback. I also tell them, forgetting my raise, I also want to hear from them about how the semester went. If it went great, I want to know that. If it sucked, I also want to know that. However, if they think the class sucked, just writing “This class sucked” doesn’t give me a lot of information about how to fix things for the next time that I teach the course. So, if they have a criticism, I ask them to give me specific feedback so that I can consider their critiques.

A couple years ago, I served on my university’s committee for reconsidering the way that we conduct student evaluations of teaching. To my surprise, when I interviewed students in focus groups, there was a general consensus that students believed that their evaluations were a waste of time that didn’t actually contribute anything to the university — or if they did contribute something, they had no idea what it was. Ever since then, I’ve made a point of telling my students that their evaluations really do matter and can make a difference in future offerings of my courses.

My Favorite One-Liners: Part 107

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.

When students ask me how long it will take me to grade their exam, I’ll describe my tongue-in-cheek process for grading… I’ll go home, pop on the TV, and watch some movie that gets me in the proper mood for grading exams… perhaps Braveheart… or Gladiator… or The Godfather

My Favorite One-Liners: Part 106

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.

Years ago, when I first taught Precalculus at the college level, I was starting a section on trigonometry by reminding my students of the acronym SOHCAHTOA for keeping the trig functions straight:

\sin \theta = \displaystyle \frac{\hbox{Opposite}}{\hbox{Hypotenuse}},

\cos \theta = \displaystyle \frac{\hbox{Adjacent}}{\hbox{Hypotenuse}},

\tan \theta = \displaystyle \frac{\hbox{Opposite}}{\hbox{Adjacent}}.

At this point, one of my students volunteered that a previous math teacher had taught her an acrostic to keep these straight: Some Old Hippie Caught Another Hippie Tripping On Acid.

Needless to say, I’ve been passing this pearl of wisdom on to my students ever since.

My Favorite One-Liners: Part 105

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.

Today’s quip was happily stolen from a former student:

If someone you like is sending you mixed signals, use a Fourier transform.

Not surprisingly, a quick Google search turned up the relevant memes:

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.


My Favorite One-Liners: Part 103

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’ll use today’s one-liner to give students my expectations about simplifying incredibly complicated answers. For example,

Find f'(x) if f(x) = \displaystyle \frac{\sqrt{x} \csc^5 (\sqrt{x} )}{x^2+1}.

Using the rules for differentiation,

f(x) = \displaystyle \frac{[\sqrt{x} \csc^5 (\sqrt{x} )]'(x^2+1) -[\sqrt{x} \csc^5 (\sqrt{x} )](x^2+1)' }{(x^2+1)^2}

= \displaystyle \frac{[(\sqrt{x})' \csc^5 (\sqrt{x} ) + \sqrt{x} (\csc^5(\sqrt{x}))'](x^2+1) - \sqrt{x} \csc^5 (\sqrt{x} )](2x) }{(x^2+1)^2}

= \displaystyle \frac{[\frac{1}{2\sqrt{x}} \csc^5 (\sqrt{x} ) + 5 \sqrt{x}  \csc^4(\sqrt{x}) [-\csc(\sqrt{x})\cot(\sqrt{x})]\frac{1}{2\sqrt{x}}(x^2+1) - \sqrt{x} \csc^5 (\sqrt{x} )](2x) }{(x^2+1)^2}

With some effort, this simplifies somewhat:

f'(x) = -\displaystyle \frac{\left(5 x^{5/2} \cot \left(\sqrt{x}\right)+3 x^2+5 \sqrt{x} \cot \left(\sqrt{x}\right)-1\right) \csc ^5\left(\sqrt{x}\right)}{2 \sqrt{x} \left(x^2+1\right)^2}

Still, the answer is undeniably ugly, and students have been well-trained by their previous mathematical education to think the final answers are never that messy. So, if they want to try to simplify it further, I’ll give them this piece of wisdom:

You can lipstick on a pig, but it remains a pig.