Month: March 2018

How to Convert a Fraction to a Decimal – and Why

(Archive Question of the Week) Fractions are a frequent source of questions from elementary students. I plan to devote several posts to various aspects of this, from using a common denominator to add fractions, to flipping and multiplying to divide fractions, to converting between improper fractions and mixed numbers. Here, I want to look at …

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Is a Square a Rectangle? Classifying Shapes

We get many questions about classifying shapes, from both elementary and high school students (or their parents or teachers). They often have trouble with the very idea of classifying items by applying definitions, and also with the fact that definitions can vary, both between everyday and technical usages, and from one textbook to another.

When Math Doesn’t Make Sense

(Archive Question of the Week) One of my favorite questions, from 2001, asked about how to convince a skeptical friend, when a clear mathematical result goes against their intuition. Why should they believe the math? It led me into thoughts about the relationship of intuition to math, whether (and when) math can be trusted, and …

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Should Rare Events Surprise Us?

(Archive Question of the Week) We often receive questions saying something like, “My wife has the same birthday as my son-in-law, whose dog has the same name as my wife’s brother, … ,” and asking us to calculate how likely it is that this would happen. Sometimes it is simply impossible to answer (without, say, looking up …

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Rounding: Contextual Issues

Previously, I discussed how to round a number to the nearest whole number [or tenth, ten, etc.]. I focused there on what to do when you are simply told to do it — what “round to nearest” means, and how that determines whether you round a particular number up or down. I also pointed out …

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Minimizing an Angle

(New Question of the Week) An interesting trigonometry problem came through about a month ago, answered by Doctor Rick. It gives a nice example of how our process works at its best. It is also an interesting problem!