Algebra

Distances to an Arc: Exact and Approximate Formulas

(A new question of the week) It can be an interesting challenge to be presented with a formula and asked how it was derived. This becomes a bigger challenge when the formula is only approximate, so we have to figure out how to arrive at this particular approximation. But it is impressive when several different …

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Venn Diagrams: Over the Top

(An archive question of the week) Last time we looked at various 2- and 3-set Venn diagram problems (and alternative methods). One discussion I found while collecting them deserved to be set aside for special examination, if only because it would scare the beginner. A mixture of tools will make the work easier. Here it …

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Evaluating Square Roots by Hand

Square roots commonly are irrational numbers, so that it is necessary to estimate them. Usually today, we use a calculator to find them. Many students, however, are curious about how they could do it without a calculator. Here I want to reverse the usual format of this blog, presenting a summary I have written that …

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Numerical Approximation Methods: When Algebra Doesn’t Work

The problems students see in class are usually only those that can be solved by the methods they have been taught. Too many students conclude that algebra can solve anything! But the reality is that if you just wrote an equation at random, it probably could not be solved algebraically. When students ask us about …

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Properties as Axioms or Theorems

To close out this series that started with postulates and theorems in geometry, let’s look at different kinds of facts elsewhere in math. What is commonly called a postulate in geometry is typically an axiom in other fields (or in more modern geometry); but what about those things we call properties (in, say, algebra)?

Finding the Radius of a Sphere

(An archive question of the week) An interesting question came to us in 2016, where rather than using a well-known formula, it was necessary to work out both what data to use, and how to calculate the desired radius.