My Favorite One-Liners: Part 38

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 I was a student, I heard the story (probably apocryphal) about the mathematician who wrote up a mathematical paper that was hundreds of pages long and gave it to the departmental administrative assistant to type. (This story took place many years ago before the advent of office computers, and so typewriters were the standard for professional communication.) The mathematician had written “iff” as the standard abbreviation for “if and only if” since typewriters did not have a button for the \Leftrightarrow symbol.

Well, so the story goes, the administrative assistant saw all of these “iff”s, muttered to herself about how mathematicians don’t know how to spell, and replaced every “iff” in the paper with “if”.

And so the mathematician had to carefully pore through this huge paper, carefully checking if the word “if” should be “if” or “iff”.

I have no idea if this story is true or not, but it makes a great story to tell students.

My Favorite One-Liners: Part 37

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.

Sometimes, I’ll deliberately show something wrong to my students, and their job is to figure out how it went wrong. For example, I might show my students the classic “proof” that 1= 2:

x =y

x^2 = xy

x^2 - y^2 = xy - y^2

(x+y)(x-y) = y(x-y)

x + y = y

y + y = y

2y = y

2 = 1

After coming to the conclusion, as my students are staring at this very unanticipated result, I’ll smile with my best used-car salesman smile and say “Trust me,” just like in the old Joe Isuzu commercials.

Of course, the joke is that my students shouldn’t trust me, and they should figure out exactly what happened.

My Favorite One-Liners: Part 34

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.

Suppose that my students need to prove a theorem like “Let n be an integer. Then n is odd if and only if n^2 is odd.” I’ll ask my students, “What is the structure of this proof?”

The key is the phrase “if and only if”. So this theorem requires two proofs:

  • Assume that n is odd, and show that n^2 is odd.
  • Assume that n^2 is odd, and show that n is odd.

I call this a blue-light special: Two for the price of one. Then we get down to the business of proving both directions of the theorem.

I’ll also use the phrase “blue-light special” to refer to the conclusion of the conjugate root theorem: if a polynomial f with real coefficients has a complex root z, then \overline{z} is also a root. It’s a blue-light special: two for the price of one.

 

My Favorite One-Liners: Part 17

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.

Sometimes it’s pretty easy for students to push through a proof from beginning to end. For example, in my experience, math majors have little trouble with each step of the proof of the following theorem.

Theorem. If z, w \in \mathbb{C}, then \overline{z+w} = \overline{z} + \overline{w}.

Proof. Let z = a + bi, where a, b \in \mathbb{R}, and let w = c + di, where c, d \in \mathbb{R}. Then

\overline{z + w} = \overline{(a + bi) + (c + di)}

= \overline{(a+c) + (b+d) i}

= (a+c) - (b+d) i

= (a - bi) + (c - di)

= \overline{z} + \overline{w}

\square

For other theorems, it’s not so easy for students to start with the left-hand side and end with the right-hand side. For example:

Theorem. If z, w \in \mathbb{C}, then \overline{z \cdot w} = \overline{z} \cdot \overline{w}.

Proof. Let z = a + bi, where a, b \in \mathbb{R}, and let w = c + di, where c, d \in \mathbb{R}. Then

\overline{z \cdot w} = \overline{(a + bi) (c + di)}

= \overline{ac + adi + bci + bdi^2}

= \overline{ac - bd + (ad + bc)i}

= ac - bd - (ad + bc)i

= ac - bd - adi - bci.

A sharp math major can then provide the next few steps of the proof from here; however, it’s not uncommon for a student new to proofs to get stuck at this point. Inevitably, somebody asks if we can do the same thing to the right-hand side to get the same thing. I’ll say, “Sure, let’s try it”:

\overline{z} \cdot \overline{w} = \overline{(a + bi)} \cdot \overline{(c + di)}

= (a-bi)(c-di)

= ac -adi - bci + bdi^2

= ac - bd - adi - bci.

\square

I call working with both the left and right sides to end up at the same spot the Diamond Rio approach to proofs: “I’ll start walking your way; you start walking mine; we meet in the middle ‘neath that old Georgia pine.” Not surprisingly, labeling this with a catchy country song helps the idea stick in my students’ heads.

Though not the most elegant presentation, this is logically correct because the steps for the right-hand side can be reversed and appended to the steps for the left-hand side:

Proof (more elegant). Let z = a + bi, where a, b \in \mathbb{R}, and let w = c + di, where c, d \in \mathbb{R}. Then

\overline{z \cdot w} = \overline{(a + bi) (c + di)}

= \overline{ac + adi + bci + bdi^2}

= \overline{ac - bd + (ad + bc)i}

= ac - bd - (ad + bc)i

= ac - bd - adi - bci

= ac -adi - bci + bdi^2

= (a-bi)(c-di)

= \overline{(a + bi)} \cdot \overline{(c + di)}

\overline{z} \cdot \overline{w}.

\square

 For further reading, here’s my series on complex numbers.

The Shortest Known Paper Published in a Serious Math Journal

Source: http://www.openculture.com/2015/04/shortest-known-paper-in-a-serious-math-journal.html

Euler’s conjecture, a theory proposed by Leonhard Euler in 1769, hung in there for 200 years. Then L.J. Lander and T.R. Parkin came along in 1966, and debunked the conjecture in two swift sentences. Their article — which is now open access and can be downloaded here — appeared in the Bulletin of the American Mathematical Society.

 

Diamond Rio and Proofs

Sometimes it’s pretty easy for students to push through a proof from beginning to end. For example, in my experience, math majors have little trouble with each step of the proof of the following theorem.

Theorem. If z, w \in \mathbb{C}, then \overline{z+w} = \overline{z} + \overline{w}.

Proof. Let z = a + bi, where a, b \in \mathbb{R}, and let w = c + di, where c, d \in \mathbb{R}. Then

\overline{z + w} = \overline{(a + bi) + (c + di)}

= \overline{(a+c) + (b+d) i}

= (a+c) - (b+d) i

= (a - bi) + (c - di)

= \overline{z} + \overline{w}

\square

For other theorems, it’s not so easy for students to start with the left-hand side and end with the right-hand side. For example:

Theorem. If z, w \in \mathbb{C}, then \overline{z \cdot w} = \overline{z} \cdot \overline{w}.

Proof. Let z = a + bi, where a, b \in \mathbb{R}, and let w = c + di, where c, d \in \mathbb{R}. Then

\overline{z \cdot w} = \overline{(a + bi) (c + di)}

= \overline{ac + adi + bci + bdi^2}

= \overline{ac - bd + (ad + bc)i}

= ac - bd - (ad + bc)i

= ac - bd - adi - bci.

A sharp math major can then provide the next few steps of the proof from here; however, it’s not uncommon for a student new to proofs to get stuck at this point. Inevitably, somebody asks if we can do the same thing to the right-hand side to get the same thing. I’ll say, “Sure, let’s try it”:

\overline{z} \cdot \overline{w} = \overline{(a + bi)} \cdot \overline{(c + di)}

= (a-bi)(c-di)

= ac -adi - bci + bdi^2

= ac - bd - adi - bci.

\square

I call working with both the left and right sides to end up at the same spot the Diamond Rio approach to proofs: “I’ll start walking your way; you start walking mine; we meet in the middle ‘neath that old Georgia pine.” Not surprisingly, labeling this with a catchy country song helps the idea stick in my students’ heads.

Though not the most elegant presentation, this is logically correct because the steps for the right-hand side can be reversed and appended to the steps for the left-hand side:

Proof (more elegant). Let z = a + bi, where a, b \in \mathbb{R}, and let w = c + di, where c, d \in \mathbb{R}. Then

\overline{z \cdot w} = \overline{(a + bi) (c + di)}

= \overline{ac + adi + bci + bdi^2}

= \overline{ac - bd + (ad + bc)i}

= ac - bd - (ad + bc)i

= ac - bd - adi - bci

= ac -adi - bci + bdi^2

= (a-bi)(c-di)

= \overline{(a + bi)} \cdot \overline{(c + di)}

\overline{z} \cdot \overline{w}.

\square

Axiom of choice

Source: http://www.xkcd.com/982/

Engaging students: Deriving the Pythagorean Theorem

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 Michelle McKay. Her topic, from Geometry: deriving the Pythagorean Theorem.

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

 

Below I have attached an activity that I like to call “Being Pythagoras for a Day”. To summarize the activity, students are given instructions (with a few guiding images) that leads them to physically manipulate various shapes that demonstrate the relationship between the sides of a right triangle. By the instructions, students will derive the Pythagorean Theorem on their own and come to understand why each side in the equation is squared. Let it be noted that the title of this activity is not just a gimmick. The proof the students will work on in this activity is the same as the one Pythagoras was given credit for using.

Michelle_McKay_BeingPythagorasForADay_A

 

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  1. How has this topic appeared in the news?

 

Not even a year ago to this day, Coach Jason Garrett of the Dallas Cowboys made a splash in the world of sports and math with his unusual demands of his players: they needed to have a sound understanding of Geometry, including the Pythagorean Theorem. Garrett fully believes that players must understand the Pythagorean Theorem to make better decisions out on the field. The following quote was taken from an interview where Garrett discusses why he feels being familiar with the Pythagorean Theorem can prevent a poor decision:

“If you’re running straight from the line of scrimmage, six yards deep, that’s a certain depth, right? It takes you a certain amount of time. But if you’re doing it from 10 yards inside and running to that same six yards, that’s the hypotenuse of that right triangle. It’s longer, right? So they have to understand that, that it takes longer to do that. That’s an important thing. Quarterbacks need to understand that, too. If you’re running a route from here to get to that spot, it’s going to be a little longer, you might need to be a little fuller in your drop.”

Let this be a wakeup call for everyone who wants to become a professional football player and never thought they would have to use the Pythagorean Theorem outside of high school!

green lineWhat interesting things can you say about the people who contributed to the discovery and/or the development of this topic?
People can easily recognize the Egyptian pyramids as one of the wonders of the world. What is not often discussed is how the engineers and architects of the day used the Pythagorean Theorem to lay the pyramids’ foundations correctly. Those primarily responsible for the pyramids’ construction were called “rope-stretchers”. This name came from the inventive method of tying thirteen, evenly spaced knots into a rope. When the rope was pegged to the ground, a 3-4-5 triangle was produced. This allowed them to accurately and consistently map out the bases of the pyramids.

Some argue that the rope-stretchers fully understood the Pythagorean Theorem and used that knowledge to manipulate the ropes, while others argue that they were intuitively using the properties of a right triangle. Due to this area of ambiguity, it is unclear whether Pythagoras was taught the theorem by the Egyptians first, or if, through watching the process, he was able to discover the relationship of a right triangle’s sides on his own.

Interestingly enough, there exist various pieces of artwork depicting Egyptians holding ropes and using them for measurement. Just by looking at the images, it is not clear if the ropes are being used for the construction of the pyramids or for dividing land (another event where the knotted ropes were used to fairly distribute plots of land).

Sources:

  1. http://www.gfisher.org/euclid_and_the_egyptian_rope.htm
  2. https://threesixty360.wordpress.com/category/math-in-pop-culture/
  3. http://profootballtalk.nbcsports.com/2013/07/24/jason-garrett-wants-the-cowboys-to-know-the-pythagorean-theorem/
  4. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=67qyhEokWIk&feature=youtu.be&ac
  5. http://www.themathlab.com/Algebra/lines%20and%20distances/pythagor.htm
  6. http://www.cut-the-knot.org/pythagoras/index.shtml
  7. http://www.historyforkids.org/learn/greeks/science/math/pythagoras.htm

 

Engaging students: Distinguishing between axioms, postulates, theorems, and corollaries

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 Michael Dixon. His topic, from Geometry: distinguishing between axioms, postulates, theorems, and corollaries.

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A2. How can you create a project for your students?

A project that I would have my students do to show that they know what the differences between these four logical terms are to ask them to write a story to model each one. There are several subtleties between these terms that require defining. Axioms and postulates are very similar, both are terms to describe something that is held to be true, and neither require any proof. The general idea is that these are supposed to be “obvious”statement that require no argument. Theorems are ideas that are heavily proven to be true, following the axiomatic method. Corollaries, however, generally follow directly as a result of a theorem, usually requiring only very short proofs.

As an example of what the students could come up with, they could write about two different doctors, who happen to be brothers. The first is a successful general physician in a remote village. He studied for many years to become the man in his village that takes care of all the illness and injuries that the villagers suffer from time to time. He is able to take care of almost anything that requires medicine or general care. But occasionally, the physician decides that a villager needs extra care or surgery that he cannot provide, so he sends them to his brother. His brother is just as successful a doctor, but instead of studying general medicine, this brother focused only on learning how to perform any kind of surgery. When the physician sends a villager to the surgeon, the surgeon figures out what needs to be done and then operates on the villager. Between the two of them, the village hasn’t suffered a death due to sickness or injury in several years.

In this example, the physician would model an axiom, and the surgeon would represent a postulate. Both of them are known by everyone to be excellent in their functions, modeling that they are known to be true. But axioms are held to be true in general, across many categories and sciences. A postulate, however, is known to be true, but is specific to one particular field.

 

 

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C3. How has this appeared in the news?

 

If I ask you, “who is the most famous mathematician?”what would you say? Its probably not a question that can safely be answered without causing an argument among mathematicians. But to the layman, the best answer would most likely be Albert Einstein. He is famously known for his General Theory of Relativity. After publishing this work in 1905, Einstein steadily rose to fame, for this work and later for his work on the Manhattan Project and his work in quantum mechanics. And even still today, Einstein’s work still influences the scientific community. Recently it has been reported on PBS that a previously unknown theory that Einstein was working on has surfaced that leads to the idea that he might have supported the idea of a steady-state universe. Pioneered by Fred Hoyle, steady-state theory states that the universe is constantly expanding, but not becoming less dense, hence it remains steady throughout time. Einstein even used equations from general relativity to support his theorem. The article states that Hoyle did not know of Einstein’s support, and though Hoyle’s theorem was mathematically sound, it did not become universally accepted. With Einstein’s support, that result could have turned out differently.

 

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D2. How was this adopted by the mathematical community?

 

When speaking of the axiomatic method and the history of proofs of this nature, naturally the conversation takes a turn towards the ancient Greeks. Most famously, Euclid developed his geometry using postulates, axioms, theorems, and corollaries. No history would be complete without mentioning these facts. In fact, it was Euclid’s Elements and the parallel postulate that led to a focusing on deductive reasoning and a general application of the axiomatic method in the early 19th century, after the discovery of non-Euclidean geometry. When it is assumed that the negation of parallel postulate is true, an entirely different geometry than we are used to comes into being. Logically it can be reasoned and soundly proven using exactly the same method of logic as Euclidean geometry. This led to a mathematical revolution of sorts, where mathematicians began trying to formalize axiomatically all of mathematics into a system. This led to all kinds of interesting paradoxes, including the incompleteness theorem, among others.

 

http://www.differencebetween.com/difference-between-axioms-and-vs-postulates/

http://divisbyzero.com/2008/09/22/what-is-the-difference-between-a-theorem-a-lemma-and-a-corollary/

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/next/physics/einsteins-lost-theorem-revealed/

http://www.encyclopediaofmath.org/index.php/Axiomatic_method

 

Two-Column Proofs that Two-Column Proofs are Terrible

I’m not entirely sure that I completely agree with the author of this post (http://mathwithbaddrawings.com/2013/10/16/two-column-proofs-that-two-column-proofs-are-terrible/), but he certainly provides food for thought and so I’m happy to link to it. Among the most provocative quotes from this post:

In a good proof, each individual step is obvious, but the conclusion is surprising.  In many two-column proofs—especially those taught earliest in a geometry course—each individual step is mystifying, while the conclusion is obvious.