For questions related to teaching mathematics. For questions in Mathematics Education as a scientific discipline there is also the tag mathematics-education.

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98
votes
6answers
26k views

Where to buy premium white chalk in the U.S., like they have at RIMS?

While not a research-level math question, I'm sure this is a question of interest to many research-level mathematicians, whose expertise I seek. At RIMS (in Kyoto) in 2005, they had the best white ...
62
votes
20answers
7k views

“Mathematics talk” for five year olds

I am trying to prepare a "mathematics talk" for five year olds from my daughter's elementary school. I have given many mathematics talks in my life but this one feels very tough to prepare. Could the ...
57
votes
23answers
21k views

What are the most misleading alternate definitions in taught mathematics?

I suppose this question can be interpreted in two ways. It is often the case that two or more equivalent (but not necessarily semantically equivalent) definitions of the same idea/object are used in ...
54
votes
10answers
10k views

Is Euclid dead? [closed]

Apparently Euclid died about 2,300 years ago (actually 2,288 to be more precise), but the title of the question refers to the rallying cry of Dieudonné, "A bas Euclide! Mort aux triangles!" ...
53
votes
10answers
6k views

Teaching proofs in the era of Google

Dear members, Way back in the stone age when I was an undergraduate (the mid 90's), the internet was a germinal thing and that consisted of not much more than e-mail, ftp and the unix "talk" command ...
47
votes
29answers
29k views

Why do we teach calculus students the derivative as a limit?

I'm not teaching calculus right now, but I talk to someone who does, and the question that came up is why emphasize the $h \to 0$ definition of a derivative to calculus students? Something a teacher ...
47
votes
32answers
9k views

Demystifying complex numbers

At the end of this month I start teaching complex analysis to 2nd year undergraduates, mostly from engineering but some from science and maths. The main applications for them in future studies are ...
46
votes
15answers
3k views

Teaching homology via everyday examples

What stories, puzzles, games, paradoxes, toys, etc from everyday life are better understood after learning homology theory? To be more precise, I am teaching a short course on homology, from ...
40
votes
44answers
13k views

An example of a beautiful proof that would be accessible at the high school level?

The background of my question comes from an observation that what we teach in schools does not always reflect what we practice. Beauty is part of what drives mathematicians, but we rarely talk about ...
40
votes
11answers
3k views

How to introduce notions of flat, projective and free modules?

In the coming spring semester I will be teaching for the first time an introductory (graduate) course in Commutative Algebra. As many people know, I have been plugging away for a while at this ...
38
votes
10answers
6k views

How misleading is it to regard $\frac{dy}{dx}$ as a fraction?

I am teaching Calc I, for the first time, and I haven't seriously revisited the subject in quite some time. An interesting pedagogy question came up: How misleading is it to regard $\frac{dy}{dx}$ as ...
35
votes
6answers
6k views

Teaching statements for math jobs?

What is the purpose of the "teaching statement" or "statement of teaching philosophy" when applying for jobs, specifically math postdocs? I am applying for jobs, and I need to write one of these ...
33
votes
4answers
5k views

Are there any “related rates” calculus problems that don't feel contrived?

I just finished teaching a freshman calculus course (at an American state university), and one standard topic in the curriculum is related rates. I taught my students to answer questions such as the ...
31
votes
19answers
5k views

Fun applications of representations of finite groups

Are there some fun applications of the theory of representations of finite groups? I would like to have some examples that could be explained to a student who knows what is a finite group but does not ...
31
votes
18answers
9k views

Interesting Calculus Questions/Exercises

I am in the process of redesigning the calculus course that I have taught five or six times. What I would like to know is if anyone has some really good examples or exercises that I could either do ...
29
votes
16answers
2k views

Justifying/Explaining math research in a public address

I have been chosen by my university to give a 1 hour public research lecture. Every year a researcher is chosen for this honour. Traditionally people explain their own research about designing ...
28
votes
20answers
7k views

Why linear algebra is fun!(or ?)

Edit: the original poster is Menny, but the question is CW; the first-person pronoun refers to Menny, not to the most recent editor. I'm doing an introductory talk on linear algebra with the ...
27
votes
19answers
4k views

Do names given to math concepts have a role in common mistakes by students?

Perhaps this question overlaps with similar ones, ... but I want to focus on a particular possible cause of confusion. I notice that students are often confused by the concepts of "infinite" and ...
27
votes
8answers
7k views

Is Galois theory necessary (in a basic graduate algebra course)?

By definition, a basic graduate algebra course in a U.S. (or similar) university with a Ph.D. program in mathematics lasts part or all of an academic year and is taken by first (sometimes second) ...
27
votes
10answers
2k views

effective teaching

Eric Mazur has a wonderful video describing how physics is taught at many universities and his description applies word for word to the way I learned mathematics and the way it is still being taught, ...
25
votes
6answers
1k views

Does seeing beyond the course you teach matter? The case of linear algebra and matrices

This question is indeed very important for me. Thus I hope you bear with my subjective explanations for a few minutes. I am an "excellent" lecturer, at least according to course evaluation forms ...
24
votes
11answers
6k views

Lecture notes on representations of finite groups

Next term I am supposed to teach a course on representation of finite groups. This is a third year course for undegrads. I was thinking to use the book of Grodon James and Martin Liebeck ...
23
votes
13answers
8k views

How to draw knots with Latex?

I am writing an exam for my students, and the topic is intro knots theory. I have no idea how to put knots into the file, but I know many MO users who can draw amazing diagrams in their papers. Can ...
23
votes
3answers
1k views

Nearly all math classes are lecture+problem set based; this seems particularly true at the graduate level. What are some concrete examples of techniques other than the “standard math class” used at the *Graduate* level?

In the fall, I am teaching one undergraduate and one graduate course, and in planning these courses I have been thinking about alternatives to the "standard math class". I have found it much easier ...
23
votes
3answers
1k views

Is “problem solving” a subject to be taught?

I am witnessing a new curriculum change in my country (Iran). It includes the change of all the mathematics textbooks at all grades. The peoples involved has sent me the textbook for seven graders (13 ...
22
votes
13answers
2k views

Elementary applications of linear algebra over finite fields

I'm teaching axiomatic linear algebra again this semester. Although the textbooks I'm using do everything over the real or complex numbers, for various reasons I prefer to work over an arbitrary ...
22
votes
5answers
3k views

References for “modern” proof of Newlander-Nirenberg Theorem

Hi, I'm starting to prepare a graduate topics course on Complex and Kahler manifolds for January 2011. I want to use this course as an excuse to teach the students some geometric analysis. In ...
22
votes
7answers
2k views

[STILL OPEN] Why are two notions of Gaussian curvature are the same - what is the simplest & most didactic proof?

This question is still wide open - all of the answers so far rely on magical calculations. I've only accepted an answer because, by bounty rules, otherwise one would be accepted automatically. I can't ...
21
votes
17answers
3k views

Using slides in math classroom

I am toying with the idea of using slides (Beamer package) in a third year math course I will teach next semester. As this would be my first attempt at this, I would like to gather ideas about the ...
21
votes
7answers
1k views

Pros and cons of math teaching using smartboards

Currently, there is some talk in my university concerning a change in our lecture rooms from blackboards to smartboards (or other alternatives, such as a smart podium). For that reason, I'm interested ...
20
votes
4answers
2k views

Curriculum reform success stories at an “average” research university

Greetings all, There's a never-ending story that many of us have sunk our teeth into. How do we go about teaching subjects like calculus and analysis "well?" Most universities that I'm familiar ...
19
votes
11answers
6k views

Blackboard rendering of math fonts

I learned most of my math font rendering from watching others (for example, I draw ζ terribly). In most cases it is passable, but I'm often uncomfortable using fonts like Fraktur on the board. ...
19
votes
2answers
784 views

Direct proof that the centralizer of $GL(V)$ acting on $V^{\otimes n}$ is spanned by $S_n$

Let $V$ be a finite dimensional vector space over a field of characteristic zero. Let $A$ be the space of maps in $\mathrm{End}(V^{\otimes n})$ which commute with the natural $GL(V)$ action. Clearly, ...
18
votes
9answers
4k views

How to motivate and present epsilon-delta proofs to undergraduates?

This would seem to be a common question, but I am surprised not to see it already asked and answered on MO! I am teaching an undergraduate course, and I want to teach them to construct basic ...
18
votes
12answers
5k views

“Homotopy-first” courses in algebraic topology

A first course in algebraic topology, at least the ones I'm familiar with, generally gets students to a point where they can calculate homology right away. Building the theory behind it is generally ...
18
votes
1answer
980 views

Resources for teaching arithmetic to calculus students

Every time we teach calculus we discover that a significant portion of our students never understood arithmetic. I don't mean that they can't multiply numbers, but rather that they don't know ...
17
votes
7answers
4k views

How do professional mathematicians learn new things? [closed]

How do professional mathematicians learn new things? How do they expand their comfort zone? By talking to colleagues?
17
votes
11answers
5k views

The role of the mean value theorem (MVT) in first-year calculus.

Should the mean value theorem be taught in first-year calculus? Most calculus textbooks present the MVT just before the section that says that if $f'>0$ on an interval then $f$ increases on that ...
17
votes
10answers
48k views

What are the qualities of a good (math) teacher? [closed]

In forming your answer you may treat the qualifier math or maths as optional, since part of the question is whether there is anything peculiar to the subject of mathematics that demands anything ...
17
votes
5answers
2k views

Varieties as an introduction to algebraic geometry / How do professional algebraic geometers think about varieties

This really is two questions, but they are kind of related so I would like to ask them at the same time. Question 1: In a question asked by Amitesh Datta, BCnrd commented that it is important to ...
17
votes
7answers
6k views

Collecting proofs that finite multiplicative subgroups of fields are cyclic.

I teach elementary number theory and discrete mathematics to students who come with no abstract algebra. I have found proving the key theorem that finite multiplicative subgroups of fields are cyclic ...
17
votes
6answers
3k views

an engineering Ph.D. teaching math in college

I have a friend who has been teaching college-level math (e.g., all levels of calculus) for about 4 years, although all of his education, including his Ph.D., was in engineering. Now he is ...
16
votes
13answers
4k views

Pedagogical question about linear algebra

Last semester I taught a linear algebra class that is intended to introduce young students (at a sophmore-junior level) to "abstract mathematics". It seems that a major conceptual hurdle for many of ...
16
votes
9answers
7k views

Applications of knot theory

An answer of André Henriques' inspired the following closely related CW question. Parts of the following is extracted from his answer and my comments. I regularly teach a knot theory class. ...
16
votes
13answers
2k views

What are your favorite puzzles/toys for introducing new mathematical concepts to students?

We all know that the Rubik's Cube provides a nice concrete introduction to group theory. I'm wondering what other similar gadgets are out there that you've found useful for introducing new math to ...
16
votes
14answers
2k views

Teaching a pedagogy course

At my institution incoming graduate students must take a semester long course on pedagogy taught by current grad students. I may soon be in the position of having to teach this course and I'm looking ...
16
votes
2answers
878 views

Can the unsolvability of quintics be seen in the geometry of the icosahedron?

Q1. Is it possible to somehow "see" the unsolvability of quintic polynomials in the $A_5$ symmetries of the icosahedron (or dodecahedron)? Perhaps this is too vague a question. Q2. Are there ...
15
votes
9answers
3k views

Mathematics and autodidactism

Mathematics is not typically considered (by mathematicians) to be a solo sport; on the contrary, some amount of mathematical interaction with others is often deemed crucial. Courses are the student's ...
15
votes
8answers
6k views

Interesting Applications of the Classical Stokes Theorem?

When students learn multivariable calculus they're typically barraged with a collection of examples of the type "given surface X with boundary curve Y, evaluate the line integral of a vector field Y ...
15
votes
17answers
2k views

Readings for an honors liberal art math course

Our university has an Honors section of our "liberal arts mathematics" course. Typically 10-20 students enroll each Fall, with most of them extremely bright, but lacking the interest and/or ...