Sharing two of Patrick Honner’s calculus ideas with my son

I’ve been looking forward to sharing two calculus ideas from Patrick Honner with my son for the last week. We were, unfortunately, a little rushed when we sat down and there are a couple of mistakes in the videos below. Even though things didn’t go perfectly, I really enjoyed talking through these ideas.

Here’s the first idea – a twist on integration by parts that Honner learned from the British mathematician Tim Gowers:

Here’s the second idea – a fun surprise when a student made a creative substitution in a integration problem:

So, I stared the project by talking about how to integrate arctangent without using integration by parts:

In the last video we found a possibly surprising connection between arctan(x) and ln(x). Here I introduced the integral from the 2nd Patrick Honner tweet above and showed my son how you solve that integral using partial fractions. The point here wasn’t so much the integral, but rather to show that ln(x) showed up in an integral similar to the one we looked at in the first part of the project:

How I showed the technique that Honner’s student used (though I goofed up the substitution, unfortunately, using u = ix rather than x = iu. By dumb luck, that mistake doesn’t completely derail the problem because it only introduces an incorrect minus sign):

Now that we’ve found two connections between arctan(x) and ln(x), we went to Mathematica to see if the two anti-derivatives were really the same. It turns out the are (!) and we got an even bigger surprise when we found that Mathematica uses the same technique that Patrick Honner’s student used 🙂

Also, in this video I find a new way to introduce a minus sign by reversing the endpoints of an integral . . . . .


Playing with parametric equations in Desmos

I saw two neat ideas about parametric equations in Desmos during the last week. First from Mr S. on twitter:

And then later from Patrick Honner:

So, I modified the Desmos program that Mr. S. shared to show velocity and acceleration and asked the kids what they saw in the animation. Here we are looking at the parametric curve defined by the equations (4\sin(4t),3\cos(3t)

(When you watch the videos, keep in mind that my older son has been studying parametric equations in calculus but my younger son has essentially never seen them)

Next I asked my older son to pick a new set of equations and we looked at what the velocity and acceleration vectors looked like now:

Now my younger son picked some new equations – this time there was a lot of wiggling around!

Finally, I wrapped up by showing them a fun little surprise – what velocity and acceleration look like for an ellipse. This example shows what’s going on with planetary motion.

Learning about approximations

Today the second my son was studying in his calculus book was about using first and second derivatives to approximate values of functions.

I had him work through 6 problems in the book – 3 of which had answers in the book so he could check his work. Then we moved on to talking about the problems he did for which he was unable to check the answer.

The first problem involved finding the approximate value of (1.97)^6 using a linear approximation:

The next problem was finding the value of \cos(31.5^o) again using a linear approximation:

Instead of working through the 3rd problem, I asked him to use a quadratic approximation to find the approximate value of \cos(31.5^o).

When Cos(x) is larger than 1

My son stumbled on an amazing graph completely by accident the other day. He’s doing some work reviewing trig functions this week and I asked him to just play around with some graphs in Mathematica to get a feel for how Sin[x] and Cos[x] behave. One of the graphs he drew was:

y = \cos( \sqrt{x}) from x = -100 to 100:

Screen Shot 2018-07-01 at 6.17.42 PM

I certainly wasn’t expecting him to make a graph like this one, but was happy that he did. Yesterday we talked through what was going on.

We started by discussing why the graph seemed so strange:

Now we dove into some of the details – which involve complex numbers and the definition:

e^{i \theta} = \cos(\theta) + i \sin(\theta)

as well as the definition of even and odd functions. So, there’s a lot of math to that we need to bring to the table to understand what’s going on in our graph.

Finally, we calculated the exact value of \cos(7i). Again, there’s a lot of advanced math that comes in to the calculation here – but even if some of the math ideas took a bit to sink in, I’d say that all in all it was a good conversation:

3d printing totally changed my approach to talking about trig with my son

For the last two weeks we’ve been playing with this book:

Screen Shot 2018-05-05 at 7.02.00 AM

Our most recent project involved one of the pentagon dissections. My son wrote the code to make the shapes on his own. We use the RegionPlot3D[] function in Mathematica. To make the various pieces, he has to write down equations of the lines that define the boundary of the shape. Writing down those equations is a fantastic exercise in algebra, geometry, and trig for kids.

Here’s his description of the shapes and how he made the pentagons:

Next we moved on to talking about one of the complicated shapes where the method he used to define the pentagon doesn’t work so well. I wish I would have filmed his thought process when he was playing with the code for this shape. He was really surprised when things didn’t work the first time, but he did a great job thinking through what he needed to do to make the shape correctly.

Here is his description of the process followed by his attempt to make the original shape (which he’d not seen in two days . . . )

I’m so happy that he’s been interested in making these tiles. I’ve honestly never seen him so engaged in a math project. The original intention of this project was just for trig review, but now I think creating these shapes is a great way to use 3d printing to introduce basic ideas from trig to students.

Nonagon tiles

Last week we did a fun project using a pattern we say in “Ernest Irving Freese’s Geometric Transformations” by Greg N. Frederickson:

Using “Ernest Irving Freese’s Geometric Transformations” with kids

Screen Shot 2018-05-05 at 7.02.00 AM

I thought it would be fun to make some of the tiles – especially since my older son is studying trig right now. The tiles finished printing overnight:

Last night my son and I talked about how you could make these tiles, with a focus on the trig and algebra required to define the shapes.

Here’s the introduction to the topic:

Now we talked about how to define the kite shape in the tiling. This involves talking about 40 and 50 degree angles:

Finally, we talked through the last part – finding the final point is pretty challenging. Turns out, though, that we don’t have to find the coordinates of the point because we can write down the equation of the top line pretty easily:

I’ve been happily surprised that 3d printing is a fun way to help kids explore 2d geometry. I’m excited to have my son try to make some other tiles from the book on his own for our next project.

An attempt to share some Katherine Johnson’s math ideas from Hidden Figures with my son

For the last few months I’ve been daydreaming about ways to share some of the math from the movie Hidden Figures with kids. As part of that prep work I found one of Katherine Johnson’s technical papers on NASA’s website:

NASA’s Technical Note D-233 by T. H. Skopinski and Katherine G. Johnson

As you’d expect, there’s a lot of trig, calculus and spherical geometry. I like finding ways to share the work that mathematicians do with kids, but this work is pretty technical and I wasn’t getting any great ideas.

Then my son had a homework problem from his Precalculus book that made me think it was time to stop daydreaming and just try something. Here is that problem, which is a completely standard law of cosines problem:

The problem reminded me of one of the equations for an ellipse used in the Technical Note. One surprising thing is that the equation of an ellipse in polar coordinates is that is is a rational function in \cos{\theta}.

So, I drew an ellipse and showed my son that equation.

One of the neat things about the Technical Note is that the solution to some of the complicated trig equations were found by an iteration method. The specific ideas for solving those equations are too advanced for kids, so I decided to show my son a different (and really simple) iteration method that converges to a well known number:

After that introduction to iteration methods, I decided to jump to a second and slightly more complicated example -> solving x = 3*x*(1 – x).

The ideas in the iteration method we use here can be explored purely geometrically:

Next we went upstairs to the computer to see some of the ideas we just talked about. The first idea was the polar coordinate equation for an ellipse:

Now we played with the second dynamical system -> solving x = 3*x(1-x).

By the way, the ideas here are incredibly fun to explore (especially seeing when this method converges and when it doesn’t), but the details of this method wasn’t really the idea here. I just wanted to show him what an iterative method looks like.

Finally, I showed him the actual paper and pointed out some of the parts we explored. Sorry that this film didn’t come out as well as I’d hoped, but you can view the paper from the first link in this post:

This was a fun project – even if it wasn’t planned really well. Showing some of the math behind Hidden Figures I hope helps motivate some of the topics that my son is studying right now. It will be fun to return to a second Hidden Figures project when he is studying calculus.