Saturday, August 28, 2004

Trying to make math delightful

Math was never my strong suit, but I am not going to pass up this chance to play on words. I also love inside jokes.

At our faculty meeting this week, the Dean made a remark--in some context--to the effect that the faculty was not differentiable. During a break, I then inquired with a math professor whether we could be integrated. The social scientist standing next to us was groaning. The irony is, of course, that integration tends to prove problematic much more frequently than does differentiation.

This reminds me of a story once told to me. During a break at a conference of mathematicians, one participant decided to play a joke on those who had left the room. He asked a server who was taking care of refreshments, "When I ask you a question, can you say 'x squared over two?''"

When the others had returned, the mathematician remarked, "You know, the state of mathematics education really isn't as bad as you all think. Let me demontrate." He then asked, "Young lady, what is the integral of x?"

To the mathematician's dismay, there was a pause as the woman seemed to be thinking. "Well, come on," he said impatiently, "what is it?"

The woman then seemed to take her cue as she responded, "X squared over two...." A slight extra pause ensued until the woman added, "plus an arbitrary constant."

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