Estimation

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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A Fermi Problem

(An archive problem of the week) A couple weeks ago, in discussing the value of estimates, I included one example of a (very simple) Fermi problem: one in which it is necessary to invent the data as well as the method of solution. Today, I will examine one answer in which we dug deeper into …

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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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