My Favorite One-Liners: Part 56

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 really awful pun comes from a 1980s special by the comedian Gallagher; I would share a video clip here, but I couldn’t find it. I’ll tell this joke the first time that the Greek letters \alpha, \beta, \gamma, or \delta appears in a course. For the discussion below, let’s say that \alpha appears for the first time.

Where does the symbol \alpha come from?

[Students answer: “The Greek alphabet.”]

Good. Now, where did the Greeks get it from?

[Students sit in silence.]

The answer is, ancient cavemen. The sounds in the Greek alphabet correspond to the first sounds that the caveman said when he first stepped out the cave, so you can tell a lot about human psychology based on the Greek alphabet.

The caveman stepped out of the cave, saw a nice bright, sunny day, and said, “Ayyyyy!”

[Students groan.]

So, “Ahhh.” What’s the second sound?

[Students: “buh” or “bee”]

Good, the second sound is “buh.” What’s the third sound?

[Students: “guh” or “cee”]

Don’t forget, it’s the Greek alphabet. “Guh.” What’s the fourth sound?

[Students: “duh”]

Good. Now let’s put these all together to see what the caveman was saying. “Ah buh guh day.”

“Have a good day!”

[Students laugh and/or groan deeply.]

One year, when I told this story, I had a student in the front row who was carefully taking notes as I told this story; she felt very silly when I finally reached the punch line.

My Favorite One-Liners: Part 50

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 today’s one-liner: “To prove that two things are equal, show that the difference is zero.” This principle is surprisingly handy in the secondary mathematics curriculum. For example, it is the basis for the proof of the Mean Value Theorem, one of the most important theorems in calculus that serves as the basis for curve sketching and the uniqueness of antiderivatives (up to a constant).

And I have a great story that goes along with this principle, from 30 years ago.

I forget the exact question out of Apostol’s calculus, but there was some equation that I had to prove on my weekly homework assignment that, for the life of me, I just couldn’t get. And for no good reason, I had a flash of insight: subtract the left- and right-hand sides. While it was very difficult to turn the left side into the right side, it turned out that, for this particular problem, was very easy to show that the difference was zero. (Again, I wish I could remember exactly which question this was so that I could show this technique and this particular example to my own students.)

So I finished my homework, and I went outside to a local basketball court and worked on my jump shot.

Later that week, I went to class, and there was a great buzz in the air. It took ten seconds to realize that everyone was up in arms about how to do this particular problem. Despite the intervening 30 years, I remember the scene as clear as a bell. I can still hear one of my classmates ask me, “Quintanilla, did you get that one?”

I said with great pride, “Yeah, I got it.” And I showed them my work.

And, either before then or since then, I’ve never heard the intensity of the cussing that followed.

Truth be told, probably the only reason that I remember this story from my adolescence is that I usually was the one who had to ask for help on the hardest homework problems in that Honors Calculus class. This may have been the one time in that entire two-year calculus sequence that I actually figured out a homework problem that had stumped everybody else.

My Favorite One-Liners: Part 22

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 example might be the most cringe-worthy pun that I use in any class that I teach.

In my statistics classes, I try to emphasize to student that a high value of the correlation coefficient r is not the same thing as causation. To hopefully drive home this point, I’ll use the following picture.

piracy01

Conclusion: If we want to stop global warming, we should all become pirates.

Obviously, I tell my class, there isn’t a cause-and-effect relationship here, even though there is a strong positive correlation. So, I tell my class, in my best pirate voice, “Correlation is not the same thing as a causation, even if you get a large value of ARRRRRRR.”

Without fail, my students love this awful wisecrack.

While I’m on the topic, this is too good not to share:

For further reading, see my series on correlation and causation.

 

My Favorite One-Liners: Part 16

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 basic notions of functions that’s taught in Precalculus and in Discrete Mathematics is the notion of an inverse function: if f: A \to B is a one-to-one and onto function, then there is an inverse function f^{-1}: B \to A so that

f^{-1}(f(a)) = a for all a \in A and

f(f^{-1}(b)) = b for all b \in B.

If A = B = \mathbb{R}, this is commonly taught in high school as a function that satisfies the horizontal line test.

In other words, if the function f is applied to a, the result is f(a). When the inverse function is applied to that, the answer is the original number a. Therefore, I’ll tell my class, “By applying the function f^{-1}, we uh-uh-uh-uh-uh-uh-uh-undo it.”

If I have a few country music fans in the class, this always generates a bit of a laugh.

See also the amazing duet with Carrie Underwood and Steven Tyler at the 2011 ACM awards:

My Favorite One-Liners: Part 13

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 story that I’ll tell my students when, for the first time in a semester, I’m about to use a previous theorem to make a major step in proving a theorem. For example, I may have just finished the proof of

\hbox{Var}(X+Y) = \hbox{Var}(X) + \hbox{Var}(Y),

where X and Y are independent random variables, and I’m about to prove that

\hbox{Var}(X-Y) = \hbox{Var}(X) + \hbox{Var}(Y).

While this can be done by starting from scratch and using the definition of variance, the easiest thing to do is to write

\hbox{Var}(X-Y) = \hbox{Var}(X+[-Y]) = \hbox{Var}(X) + \hbox{Var}(-Y),

thus using the result of the first theorem to prove the next theorem.

And so I have a little story that I tell students about this principle. I think I was 13 when I first heard this one, and obviously it’s stuck with me over the years.

At MIT, there’s a two-part entrance exam to determine who will be the engineers and who will be the mathematicians. For the first part of the exam, students are led one at a time into a kitchen. There’s an empty pot on the floor, a sink, and a stove. The assignment is to boil water. Everyone does exactly the same thing: they fill the pot with water, place it on the stove, and then turn the stove on. Everyone passes.

For the second part of the exam, students are led one at a time again into the kitchen. This time, there’s a pot full of water sitting on the stove. The assignment, once again, is to boil water. Nearly everyone simply turns on the stove. These students are led off to become engineers. The mathematicians are ones who take the pot off the stove, dump the water into the sink, and place the empty pot on the floor… thereby reducing to the original problem, which had already been solved.

My Favorite One-Liners: Part 10

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.

While I can’t take credit for today’s one-liner, I’m more than happy to share it.

A colleague was explaining his expectations for simplifying expressions such as

\displaystyle \frac{\displaystyle ~~~\frac{2x}{x^2+1}~~~}{\displaystyle ~~~\frac{x}{x^2-1}~~~}

Of course, this isn’t yet simplified, but his students were balking about doing the required work. So, on the spur of the moment, he laid down a simple rule:

Not simplifying a fraction in a fraction is an infraction.

Utterly brilliant.

My Favorite One-Liners: Part 8

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.

At many layers of the mathematics curriculum, students learn about that various functions can essentially commute with each other. In other words, the order in which the operations is performed doesn’t affect the final answer. Here’s a partial list off the top of my head:

  1. Arithmetic/Algebra: a \cdot (b + c) = a \cdot b + a \cdot c. This of course is commonly called the distributive property (and not the commutative property), but the essential idea is that the same answer is obtained whether the multiplications are performed first or if the addition is performed first.
  2. Algebra: If a,b > 0, then \sqrt{ab} = \sqrt{a} \sqrt{b}.
  3. Algebra: If a,b > 0 and x is any real number, then (ab)^x = a^x b^x.
  4. Precalculus: \displaystyle \sum_{i=1}^n (a_i+b_i) = \displaystyle \sum_{i=1}^n a_i + \sum_{i=1}^n b_i.
  5. Precalculus: \displaystyle \sum_{i=1}^n c a_i = c \displaystyle \sum_{i=1}^n a_i.
  6. Calculus: If f is continuous at an interior point c, then \displaystyle \lim_{x \to c} f(x) = f(c).
  7. Calculus: If f and g are differentiable, then (f+g)' = f' + g'.
  8. Calculus: If f is differentiable and c is a constant, then (cf)' = cf'.
  9. Calculus: If f and g are integrable, then \int (f+g) = \int f + \int g.
  10. Calculus: If f is integrable and c is a constant, then \int cf = c \int f.
  11. Calculus: If f: \mathbb{R}^2 \to \mathbb{R} is integrable, \iint f(x,y) dx dy = \iint f(x,y) dy dx.
  12. Calculus: For most differentiable function f: \mathbb{R}^2 \to \mathbb{R} that arise in practice, \displaystyle \frac{\partial^2 f}{\partial x \partial y} = \displaystyle \frac{\partial^2 f}{\partial y \partial x}.
  13. Probability: If X and Y are random variables, then E(X+Y) = E(X) + E(Y).
  14. Probability: If X is a random variable and c is a constant, then E(cX) = c E(X).
  15. Probability: If X and Y are independent random variables, then E(XY) = E(X) E(Y).
  16. Probability: If X and Y are independent random variables, then \hbox{Var}(X+Y) = \hbox{Var}(X) + \hbox{Var}(Y).
  17. Set theory: If A, B, and C are sets, then A \cup (B \cap C) = (A \cup B) \cap (A \cup C).
  18. Set theory: If A, B, and C are sets, then A \cap (B \cup C) = (A \cap B) \cup (A \cap C).

However, there are plenty of instances when two functions do not commute. Most of these, of course, are common mistakes that students make when they first encounter these concepts. Here’s a partial list off the top of my head. (For all of these, the inequality sign means that the two sides do not have to be equal… though there may be special cases when equality happens to happen.)

  1. Algebra: (a+b)^x \ne a^x + b^x if x \ne 1. Important special cases are x = 2, x = 1/2, and x = -1.
  2. Algebra/Precalculus: \log_b(x+y) = \log_b x + \log_b y. I call this the third classic blunder.
  3. Precalculus: (f \circ g)(x) \ne (g \circ f)(x).
  4. Precalculus: \sin(x+y) \ne \sin x + \sin y, \cos(x+y) \ne \cos x + \cos y, etc.
  5. Precalculus: \displaystyle \sum_{i=1}^n (a_i b_i) \ne \displaystyle \left(\sum_{i=1}^n a_i \right) \left( \sum_{i=1}^n b_i \right).
  6. Calculus: (fg)' \ne f' \cdot g'.
  7. Calculus \left( \displaystyle \frac{f}{g} \right)' \ne \displaystyle \frac{f'}{g'}
  8. Calculus: \int fg \ne \left( \int f \right) \left( \int g \right).
  9. Probability: If X and Y are dependent random variables, then E(XY) \ne E(X) E(Y).
  10. Probability: If X and Y are dependent random variables, then \hbox{Var}(X+Y) \ne \hbox{Var}(X) + \hbox{Var}(Y).

All this to say, it’s a big deal when two functions commute, because this doesn’t happen all the time.

green lineI wish I could remember the speaker’s name, but I heard the following one-liner at a state mathematics conference many years ago, and I’ve used it to great effect in my classes ever since. Whenever I present a property where two functions commute, I’ll say, “In other words, the order of operations does not matter. This is a big deal, because, in real life, the order of operations usually is important. For example, this morning, you probably got dressed and then went outside. The order was important.”

 

My Favorite One-Liners: Part 3

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 always encourage students to answer occasional questions in class; naturally, this opens the possibility that a student may suggest an answer that is completely wrong or is only partially correct. Naturally, I don’t want to discourage students from participating in class  by blunting saying “You’re wrong!” So I need to have a gentle way of pointing out that the proposed answer isn’t quite right.

Thanks to a recent movie, I finally have hit on a one-liner to do this with good humor and cheer: “To quote the trolls in Frozen, I’m afraid your answer is a bit of a fixer-upper. (Laughter) So it’s a bit of a fixer-upper, but this I’m certain of… you can fix this fixer-upper up with a little bit of love.”

If you have no idea about what I’m talking about, here’s the song from the movie (you can hate me for the rest of the day while you sing this song to yourself):

See also Math with Bad Drawing’s excellent post with thoughts on responding to students who give wrong answers.

My Favorite One Liners: Part 2

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 doing a large computation, I’ll often leave plenty of blank space on the board to fill it later. For example, when proving by mathematical induction that

1 + 3 + 5 + \dots + (2n-1) = n^2,

the inductive step looks something like

1 + 3 + 5 \dots + (2k-1) + (2[k+1]-1) =

~

~

~

~

~

~

= (k+1)^2

So I explained that, to complete the proof by induction, all we had to do was convert the top line into the bottom line.

As my class swallowed hard as they thought about how to perform this task, I told them, “Yes, this looks really intimidating. Indeed, to quote the great philosopher, ‘You might think that I’m insane. But I’ve got a blank space, baby… so let’s write what remains.’ “

And, just in case you’ve been buried under a rock, here’s the source material for the one-liner (which, at the time of this writing, is the fifth-most watched video on YouTube):

Merry Christmas!

Hosanna in Excel sheets.

hosanna-in-excel-sheetsAnd Merry Christmas.