# Mistakes

## 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 …

## Long Division with Zero, Revisited

(A new question of the week) One of our first posts, in 2018, was about zeros in long division. But we still get many questions about this issue, and it’s time to dig in deeper. We’ll look here at two of them, answering the twin questions, “When do you put a zero in the quotient …

## Two Integration Puzzlers

Two recent questions (that came to us within two hours) dealt with apparent contradictions in integration. The first seems to give a result of zero that is clearly wrong; the second seems to give two different results for the same integral.

## Help with Factoring: Trinomials

(A new question of the week) I recently had a pleasant discussion of factoring, with the kind of student for whom I returned to teaching: one who has been away from math for a while, and with greater maturity has the determination to succeed. We’ll see several examples of the “ac-grouping” method of factoring a …

## Implicit Differentiation: Explanation, Examples, and a Surprise

In response to a recent request for information about implicit differentiation (hi, Brian!), let’s take a look at that topic. It happens to be distantly related to Friday’s topic, which was about implicitly defined curves. We’ll start with a thorough explanation, and then look at several specific examples, capping it off with a weird one.

## Broken Sticks, Triangles, and Probability II

Last week, we looked at two solutions to the problem of finding the probability that you can make a triangle using three pieces of a stick, if we cut it at two independently chosen, random locations. This time, we look another solution to that problem, and a similar solution to the version in which we …

## Intersecting a Parabola in Two Points

(A new question of the week) A good way to check (and hopefully build) a student’s depth of understanding is to assign non-routine problems, in which familiar ideas are twisted around so you have to come at them from a different direction. Here we’ll look at a question about a graph that can be solved …

## A Limit: Getting the Algebra Right

(A new question of the week) I have often said that calculus class is where many students finally learn algebra, because now algebra is an essential tool, not just something to learn for an exam. This is especially true of a nontraditional student, who may not have taken math recently, or may even be learning …