Advent Calendar Day Seven: Even people who took some math in unversity
have a little trouble defining what “calculus” is in layperson’s
terminology. Ask a techie what calculus and s/he’ll probably tell you
something along the lines of “it’s the branch of mathematics that has
to do with derivatives and integrals”, an answer that is meaningless
unless you also cover the definition of derivative (rate of change of quantity in relation to the rate of change in another; for example, speed is a derivative of distance) and integral
(even tougher to define — “the inverse of a derivative” or “the study
of the accumulation of quantities” is the sort of answer that I fumble
Even less inituitive is calculus itself. I have spent a good chunk of
school solving problems like what the water level in a conical tank filling
at a quarter-litre a second is after 15 seconds, and let me tell you,
that’s one of the easy ones. Calculus is so mind-bending that in most
cases, it often becomes an exercise in attempting to turn hard-to-solve
simpler ones by memorizing or looking up substitution rules like
Worse still, we sort of take it on faith that the above identity is
true. Give me a pen and paper and I can quickly whip up an
layperson-friendly illustration that shows why 3 times six equals
eighteen. With a little more paper, I can draw a couple of diagrams
that show why the sine of 30 degrees is .5. But a layperson-friendly
explanation of the identity above? I’d have to look inside my old
calculus text in order to work out just the standard math proof from
first principles, never mind a layperson-friendly explanation.
That’s the problem that all calculus teachers face: it’s a tough branch
of math. It also gets pretty dry, especially when you hit that part of
integral calculus where you have to learn all kinds of substitutions
like that identity shown above. How can you keep students motivated?
Bikini Calculus represents one attempt to solve this problem. The
premise is simple: have women in skimpy clothes teach calculus, padding
the lesson material with cleavage shots and sexual innuendo.
(Okay, it’s not going to get heterosexual girls into calculus, but
what’s wrong with a little hot girl-on-girl action in mathematics? What
are you, some kind of homophobe?)
Here are a couple of screen captures of the video in which the
exponential rule is covered. Here’s Paige explaining the derivative of ax with respect to x:
…and here’s Jamie Lynn explaining the corresponding integral form. You have to credit them for being thorough.
And there you have it: today’s Advent Calendar goodie, from Newton
and Leibniz to Paige and Jamie Lynn’s to Accordion Guy to you: the gift of calculus.
I present two videos:
If you’d like more, there’s a DVD featuring more titillating calculus lessons and a bonus “jacuzzi and pizza interview”.
Yes, it’s quite obvious that neither Paige nor Jamie Lynn would know a Riemann Sum
if it bit either of them on the ass (I’ll let you enjoy the mental
image for a moment) and yes, their cue card reading skills could use a
little work. But these women have taken time from their presumably busy
schedules of waiting tables, shopping at H&M
(my wife likes to call that store “Target for whores”) and possibly
lapdancing to improve the general population’s knowledge of
mathematics. Even Stephen Freaking Wolfram himself couldn’t do what these ladies do (and even if he could, you couldn’t pay me to watch him flash his man-cleavage).
(Note: There’s probably a good “right-hand rule” joke in here somewhere, but that’s linear algebra, not calculus. We have standards here at Accordion Guy, you know.)