Questions tagged [concept-motivation]

For questions how to motivate a mathematical concept (i.e., the motivation and examples of definitions, theorems, etc.) or general concepts of mathematics. Please use the [student-motivation] tag for questions about how to motivate students in general.

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52
votes
24answers
45k views

Optimization problems that today's students might actually encounter?

Our students are not fencing in farm fields, cutting wires and folding them, or designing windows, so they are often uninspired by the optimization problems we give them. They seem like something that ...
44
votes
10answers
4k views

Should we avoid indefinite integrals?

I am very uncomfortable with indefinite integrals, as I have a hard time giving them a precise sense that matches the way they are written and the usual meaning of other symbols. For example, when ...
32
votes
17answers
8k views

Dividing by zero

I was having a discussion with a friend and fellow mathematics teacher the other day when the topic of dividing by zero came up. She is the department head and had this in a questionnaire she gave to ...
32
votes
18answers
2k views

How to teach someone that $-3>-4$?

I am trying to teach a teenage person math, but he doesn't seem to be able to grasp the concept of negative numbers and $0$. Again and again he finds $-4$ greater than $-3$ because he has spent ...
29
votes
11answers
4k views

For calculus students, what should be the intuition or motivation behind series?

I've noticed that series are one of the most difficult portions of calculus for new students to learn. I think the level of abstraction has to do with this. Limits, derivatives, and integrals, as ...
27
votes
13answers
8k views

Should I be teaching point-slope formula to high school algebra students?

I'm student teaching this semester, and so far I'm loving it! Our next section in the book teaches point-slope formula, and my cooperating teacher (a 24-year veteran teacher) is convinced that point-...
26
votes
5answers
1k views

Wonder as motivation

Like all mathematicians, I have a deep appreciation of the beauty of mathematics. Many theorems I find amazing even after I fully understand their proofs. (Example: Euler's formula, $V-E+F=2-2g$. That ...
25
votes
9answers
7k views

How to justify teaching students to rationalize denominators?

I'm teaching an "intermediate algebra" college course ($\approx$ junior high school or beginning high school algebra) and we have a bunch of problems on rationalizing denominators. How do I motivate ...
24
votes
7answers
3k views

Why do we care about multiple proofs of the same theorem?

I am teaching a math appreciation course to high school students who are approximately 17 years old, in their last year of high school, and who do not believe they will choose a STEM major in ...
23
votes
6answers
696 views

Too much motivation?

This is something that I felt like was difficult for me in some classes, especially lower division differential equations and linear algebra classes. I know professors want to motivate certain topics ...
23
votes
4answers
2k views

What are some good examples to motivate the implicit function theorem?

I always had problems when teaching the implicite function theorem in advanced analysis courses. This result is motivated by later applications, but it would be great to be able to provide easily ...
22
votes
11answers
2k views

What is a good motivation/showcase for a student for the study of eigenvalues?

Courses about linear algebra make great demands on looking for eigenvalues and transforming matrices to diagonal matrices (or, at least, to Jordan normal form). This is somehow a technical, recipe-...
22
votes
16answers
1k views

How to motivate equivalence classes

Equivalence classs are very useful in mathematics, but many of the applications require further background, like quotient spaces in topology or quotient groups in algebra. One good example is residue ...
21
votes
7answers
857 views

Is $e^{i\pi}+1=0$ a good motivation for introducing $e$ or $i$? Why (not)?

Most mathematicians would agree that $$e^{i\pi}+1=0$$ is one of the most impressive formulas. Imagine your students have just learned about the definition of $e$ or $i$ (just assume it's $e$, ...
21
votes
8answers
1k views

Counterintuitive consequences of standard definitions

Let me motivate my question with the following situation. While teaching the concept of continuity, I usually start with motivating the concept. Then, when we see that there is an important and ...
19
votes
12answers
9k views

How to explain that we live in a three-dimensional world?

How does one explain, clearly and simply, that we live in a three-dimensional world? The explanation has to be understandable for a twelve year old child.
19
votes
5answers
1k views

Physical applications of higher terms of Taylor series

Depressingly many of the physical "applications" of Taylor series that I can find in textbooks and online are actually just applications of linear approximation, since they only take the constant and ...
19
votes
7answers
1k views

How can I motivate the formal definition of continuity?

In order to teach continuity of real valued functions $f:D\to\mathbb R$ one may start with the (in some sense wrong) intuition $f$ is continuous when its graph can be drawn without lifting the pen. ...
19
votes
8answers
946 views

What are some good mathematical applications to present in an abstract algebra course?

One of the main difficulties for a student learning abstract algebra is understanding the motivations behind concepts like groups, normal subgroups, rings , ideals etc. Also, many have difficulty ...
18
votes
2answers
2k views

What is a good way to explain the Lebesgue integral to non-math majors?

A few days ago I had my last discussion session on probability theory as a TA. In the end I asked students to ask me questions as this is the last class. One of the student asked me about the (real) ...
17
votes
5answers
437 views

Against introducing precise definitions first

After introducing eight different ways of viewing the derivative of a function (infinitesimal, symbolic, logical, geometric, rate, approximation, microscopic), Thurston, in his famous essay, ...
17
votes
6answers
2k views

Motivating the study of matrices

In Brazil's curriculum students are taught matrices in high school. Here, however, there is no linear algebra or pre-calculus, therefore matrices end up being just tables with lots of "arbitrary" ...
17
votes
3answers
1k views

“Proof” meaning in maths and society

When we ask students to prove a particular result in a math class, students often reply with examples. For example, if I state: if a number is even its square will be even, and ask the students to ...
16
votes
8answers
2k views

How to teach Mathematical Induction mathematically?

I am exhausted of teaching Mathematical induction to my little brother. I have given him many examples, Domino effect, aligned shops of hot dogs etc and every time he says that he got it but when I ...
16
votes
4answers
675 views

Historically Motivating Concepts

I have been reading this site for a while, and was glad to find an entire tag devoted to "concept motivation," which is currently my area of interest. However, my particular focus has not been ...
16
votes
4answers
840 views

What is the motivation for characterizing second order linear PDEs as hyperbolic, elliptic, or parabolic?

I'm teaching an Intro to PDEs course (I'm an analyst, but PDEs are a bit outside my bailiwick) and I'm covering the basic examples: Heat, Wave, and Laplace. How should I move from these examples to ...
15
votes
13answers
4k views

How to teach binary numbers to 5th graders?

I already tried the direct approach, starting with "this is how it works". That turned out ok but took too long and was boring for all of us. My second attempt was using the twofingered alien. This ...
15
votes
6answers
561 views

How to get students in a under-graduate linear algebra course interested in determinants?

Before teaching the chapter on determinants in a linear-algebra course for beginning undergraduate students (mathematics and computer science, more specifically) I would like to give a small ...
14
votes
4answers
454 views

What are some good ways to motivate and introduce reasoning abstractly about abstract algebra?

I've found one of the hardest topics to introduce to students early on is abstract algebra. Even if they've already written proofs, it's hard for them to work directly from axioms. They seem to have ...
14
votes
4answers
396 views

Explaining subjects whose justification requires demanding technical content

This is my first question and I hope it's appropriate. Often in the process of teaching a subject I start with examples of a phenomenon, exhibiting similar properties between the examples and ...
14
votes
4answers
996 views

Using joke / song / film / pop culture to exhibit a new mathematical concept

Questions: Do you have any examples from pop culture (say, a joke, or an episode of a show, or a song lyric, etc.) that utilize and/or effectively illustrate a mathematical concept? Have you used any ...
13
votes
6answers
410 views

Is there a simple real-world problem I can use to motivate a formula for $\displaystyle \sum_{i=1}^n i $?

I would like to know if there is a simple real-world problem which requires knowing a closed form for $\displaystyle \sum_{i=1}^n i$ and/or the sum of the first $n$ even/odd numbers. The only ...
13
votes
6answers
2k views

Why should we study continuity?

This question is related to How can I motivate the formal definition of continuity? Imagine a student asks the question why it is worth it to study continuity. What is a good response to this question?...
13
votes
5answers
524 views

When is it a good idea to avoid talking about why something works?

I am teaching, among other things, a college algebra course this semester. In this course we do a lot of conceptual things but we also do some techniques to prepare students for calculus. One of the ...
13
votes
4answers
751 views

Wiggins' question #12

There's an interesting read: Conceptual Understanding in Mathematics by Grant Wiggins. In that text the author proposes "a test for conceptual understanding" which should be given "to 10th, 11th, and ...
12
votes
5answers
620 views

Moving from discrete probability distributions to continuous ones

I'm teaching an introductory statistics class at a community college, and we've just finished a unit on discrete probability. At the moment, the students' conception of the probability of an event A ...
12
votes
5answers
8k views

Real life examples to motivate the study of linear functions

Some years ago I used mobile phone or internet rates (for example, with basic fees and a given charge per minute or by data volume) to introduce and motivate the study of linear functions. However, ...
12
votes
2answers
203 views

Do “overview” sections increase learning outcome?

I write a math textbook for which I want to make an overview chapter for each part of the textbook. In those overview chapters I want to motivate and introduce the new mathematical concepts. I also ...
11
votes
9answers
5k views

Why do we study ordinary differential equations?

What is a good answer to the question: Why should one study ordinary differential equations? I would give the answer: ODEs are used in many models to determine how the state of this model is changing ...
11
votes
6answers
1k views

How can I convince students that Fourier series are useful?

Main question: Calculating the coefficients of a Fourier series can be difficult and time-consuming. How might a student be motivated/convinced to go through these (potentially tedious) details? Are ...
11
votes
3answers
310 views

How can you explain the importance of $e$ to those who have not taken calculus?

The number $e$ has many interesting and important properties, many of which are related to calculus. How can I explain what $e$ is and why it is important to those who have not had calculus (or even, ...
11
votes
6answers
718 views

is it possible to motivate square roots e.g. $\sqrt{2}$ in business math?

My class is mostly are in business and politics and most have made the choice never to look at math again. Is there still any chance I can motivate exact notions like $\sqrt{2}$ in a manner that is ...
11
votes
5answers
5k views

How to motivate the geometric definition of trigonometric functions on the unit circle

Suppose your students know already the geometric definition of $\sin$ $\cos$ and $\tan$ for angles between $0^{\circ}$ and $90^{\circ}$. How can I motivate the definition of $\sin$, $\cos$ and $\tan$...
11
votes
3answers
310 views

How can one convincingly present the alternating group?

I am soon going to explain to my students what the alternating group is. The definition is subtle.... one must prove that the notation of an "even permutation" is well defined. There seem to be two ...
11
votes
4answers
619 views

What is most motivating way to introduce Fermat's Little Theorem

What is the best way to introduce Fermat’s Little Theorem (F$l$T) to students? What can I use as an opening paragraph which will motivate and have an impact on why students should learn this theorem ...
11
votes
2answers
261 views

How can one motivate the adjugate matrix?

The adjugate matrix of an $n \times n$ matrix $A$ is defined by $(\mathrm{adj}\ A)_{k\ell} = (-1)^{k+\ell}\,\det M(\ell,k)$, where $M(\ell,k)$ is the minor matrix obtained from $A$ by deleting row $\...
11
votes
3answers
6k views

What are easy examples from daily life of constrained optimization?

A standard example of motivating constrained optimization are examples where the setup is described in a lot of lines, e.g., when you own a company and the company is making some products out of ...
11
votes
3answers
484 views

Good ways of explaining the idea of epsilon-delta limits to bio & chem majors?

I am cross-posting from MSE. The students in my calc classes tend to be primarily bio/chem majors, and not very much math / physics / engineering. I feel like there are pretty good ways to talk ...
11
votes
5answers
454 views

An intuitive derivation of Taylor polynomial coefficients

I'd like to introduce Taylor polynomials by generalizing the linear approximation of a function $f(x)$ to a quadratic approximation. The linear approximation formula $L(x)=f(a)+f'(a)(x-a)$ of $f(x)$ ...
11
votes
4answers
983 views

Reasons to teach Thales' theorem

In a classical course on Euclidean, compass-and-ruler geometry, Thales' theorem has always had a prominent place. However, as the Wikipedia article says, It is equivalent to the theorem about ...