Why Isn’t Slope Run Over Rise?

Definitions are interesting in several ways. Sometimes they are essentially arbitrary; other times there is a very good reason for them, and understanding that reason can be helpful in understanding and using them. But they are usually taught just as something to memorize. Let’s think about why slope is defined as it is, and not …

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Empty Sets and Vacuous Truth

I’m going to start this post with a simple question about the empty set, and gradually dive deeper. There will be connections here to previous discussions of conditional statements in logic.

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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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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Why Must the Number of Variables Equal the Number of Equations?

(New question of the week) Now that we are receiving questions at the new site, we will be periodically posting some of those questions and answers, in addition to going back to particularly interesting questions from the old archive. This question (which I have slightly edited) came to The Math Doctors earlier this month, from …

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Why We Care About “Why”

(Archive question of the week) One day back in November, as I entered the community college where I teach, a man came in behind me with his son, probably about 3 years old. It was the first snowy day of the year, and the father stood on the mat wiping his feet, while the little …

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