# Mistakes

## Algebra Word Problems: Learning from Mistakes

A recent series of questions from an insightful high school student about word problems, provided a number of opportunities to discuss how to find and correct your mistakes – or the book’s! We’ll look at five.

## Dealing with Infinity in Probability Problems

Last week we looked at the probability that one of infinitely many possible triangles is an acute triangle, and ended up thinking about continuous probability distributions in general. I thought it might be good to look at some old questions dealing with similar issues in various ways. One will even come back to that same …

## Why Proof Matters: Polynomial Zeros and Turning Points

A recent question from a student demonstrates that not everything on the Internet should be taken at face value – and that it’s easy to think you are right when you are not.

## Intersecting Powers and Roots

Here is an interesting little question. Its answer is simple, and not hard to see just by graphing examples; yet the algebra is easy to get wrong, as we’ll see several times. And subtle errors deserve study.

## Parallel Vectors: Missing a Solution

(A new question of the week) We were recently asked to check work on an interesting little question about parallel vectors, and I was almost convinced that there was no solution … until I realized there was one! How was it missed? How can we avoid doing that? That’s our goal today.

## Parentheses and the Associative and Distributive Properties

(A new question of the week) This week, we’ll look at two recent questions about how parentheses (brackets) are used, how they relate to the properties we use in algebra that let us add or drop them, and the related concept of factoring a polynomial. They are examples of how student questions can touch on …

## Probability: Cards vs Dice

(A new question of the week) A couple recent questions involved related subtleties in probability and combinatorics. Both were about apparent conflicts between similar problems involving cards and dice.

## Non-homogeneous Recurrence Relations

(A new question of the week) A recent question asked us to find errors in solving recurrence relations by the method of undetermined coefficients. We’ll see several things that can go wrong, and correct some misunderstandings.

## Subtleties of Inverse Trig Functions

(A new question of the week) It is not uncommon for students to ask about why they get different answers using different methods. Usually the answer is that the answers are really equivalent. This time, the answers really are different! This was partly the result of being taught an incomplete technique, omitting important cautions. And …

## Trigonometry, Radicals, and a Very Common Error

(A new question of the week) While I was looking through recent questions to choose one to post, I ran across one that deals with an error we see very commonly – in fact, a student I had worked with that very afternoon in face-to-face tutoring had done the same sort of thing. The context …