Units

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

Math Graduation Message

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

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 94

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 edition isn’t a one-liner, but it’s still one of my favorites.

When constructing a mathematical model, sometimes certain simplifying assumptions have to be made… and sometimes these simplifications can be less than realistic. If a student complains about the unreasonableness of the simplifications, I’ll share the following story (taken from the book Absolute Zero Gravity).

Once upon a time, a group of investors decided that horse-racing could be made to pay on a scientific basis. So, they hired a team of biologists, a team of physicists, and a team of mathematicians to spend a year studying the question. At the end of the year, all three teams announced complete solutions. The investors decided to celebrate with a gala dinner where all three plans could be unveiled.

The mathematicians had the thickest report, so the chief mathematician was asked to give the first talk: “Ladies and gentlemen, you have nothing to worry about. Without describing the many details of
our proof, we can guarantee a solution to the problem you gave us — it turns out that every race is won by a least one horse. But we have been able to go beyond even this, and can show that the solution is unique: every race is won by no more than one horse!”

The biologists, who had spent the most money, went next. They were also able to show that the investors had nothing to worry about. By using the latest technology of genetic engineering, the biologists could easily set up a breeding program to produce an unbeatable racehorse, at a cost well below a million a year, in about two hundred years.

Now the investors’ hopes were riding on the physicists. The chief physicist also began by assuring them that their troubles were over. “We have perfected a method for predicting with 96 percent certainty the winner of any given race. The method is based on a very few simplifying assumptions. First, let each horse be a perfect rolling sphere… “

My Favorite One-Liners: Part 93

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.

This is a wisecrack that I’ll use in my probability/statistics classes to clarify the difference between P(A \cap B) and P(A \mid B):

Even though the odds of me being shot by some idiot wielding a gun while I teach my class are probably a million to one, I’ve decided, in light of Texas’  campus-carry law, to get my concealed handgun license and carry my own gun to class. This is for my own safety and protection; after all, the odds of *two* idiots carrying a gun to my class must be absolutely microscopic.

See also my previous post for more of the background for this wisecrack.

 

My Favorite One-Liners: Part 91

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.

Everyone once in a while, a student might make a careless mistake  — or just choose an incorrect course of action — that changes what was supposed to be a simple problem into an incredibly difficult problem. For example, here’s a problem that might arise in Calculus I:

Find f'(x) if f(x) = \displaystyle \int_0^x (1+t^2)^{10} \, dt

The easy way to do this problem, requiring about 15 seconds to complete, is to use the Fundamental Theorem of Calculus. The hard way is by multiplying out (1+t^2)^{10} — preferably using Pascal’s triangle — taking the integral term-by-term, and then taking the derivative of the result. Naturally, a student who doesn’t see the easy way of doing the problem might get incredibly frustrated by the laborious calculations.

So here’s the advice that I give my students to trying to discourage them from following such rabbit trails:

If you find yourself stuck on what seems to be an incredibly difficult problem, you should ask yourself, “Just how evil do I think my professor is?”

 

My Favorite One-Liners: Part 90

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.

Here’s a typical problem that arises in Algebra II or Precalculus:

Find all solutions of 2 x^4 + 3 x^3 - 7 x^2 - 35 x -75 =0.

There is a formula for solving such quartic equations, but it’s very long and nasty and hence is not typically taught in high school. Instead, the one trick that’s typically taught is the Rational Root Test: if there’s a rational root of the above equation, then (when written in lowest terms) the numerator must be a factor of -10 (the constant term), while the denominator must be a factor of 2 (the leading coefficient). So, using the rational root test, we conclude

Possible rational roots = \displaystyle \frac{\pm 1, \pm 3, \pm 5, \pm 15, \pm 25, \pm 75}{\pm 1, \pm 2}

= \pm 1, \pm 3, \pm 5, \pm 15, \pm 25, \pm 75 \displaystyle \pm \frac{1}{2}, \pm \frac{3}{2}, \pm \frac{5}{2}, \pm \frac{15}{2}, \pm \frac{25}{2}, \pm \frac{75}{2}.

Before blindly using synthetic division to see if any of these actually work, I’ll try to address a few possible misconceptions that students might have. One misconception is that there’s some kind of guarantee that one of these possible rational roots will actually work. Here’s another: students might think that we haven’t made much progress toward finding the solutions… after all, we might have to try synthetic division 24 times before finding a rational root. So, to convince my students that we actually have made real progress toward finding the answer, I’ll tell them:

Yes, 24 is a lot\dots but it’s better than infinity.

 

My Favorite One-Liners: Part 89

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.

Here’s a problem that might arise in my discrete mathematics class:

Find the negation of p \Rightarrow q.

This requires a couple of reasonably complex steps. First, we use the fact that p \Rightarrow q is logically equivalent to $\lnot p \lor q$:

\lnot(p \Rightarrow q) \equiv \lnot (\lnot p \lor q).

Next, we have to apply DeMorgan’s Law to find the negation:

\lnot (p \Rightarrow q) \equiv \lnot(\lnot p \lor q) \equiv \lnot(\lnot p) \land \lnot q

Finally, we arrive at the final step: simplifying \lnot(\lnot p). At this point, I tell my class, it’s a bit of joke, especially after the previous, more complicated steps. “Not not p,” of course, is the same as p. So this step is a bit of a joke. Which steps up the following cringe-worthy pun:

In fact, you might even call this a not-not joke.

After the groans settle down, we finish the derivation:

\lnot(p \Rightarrow q) \equiv \lnot(\lnot p \lor q) \equiv \lnot(\lnot p) \land \lnot q \equiv p \land \lnot q.

My Favorite One-Liners: Part 86

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.

To get students comfortable with i = \sqrt{-1}, I’ll often work through a quick exercise on the powers of i:

i^1 = i

i^2 = -1

i^3 = -i

i^4 = 1

i^5 = i

Students quickly see that the powers of i are a cycle of length 4, so that i^5 = i \cdot i \cdot i \cdot i \cdot i is the same thing as just i. So I tell my students:

There’s a technical term for this phenomenon: aye-yai-yai-yai-yai.

See also http://mentalfloss.com/article/52790/where-did-phrase-aye-yai-yai-come for more on the etymology of this phrase.