Home | Jeremy Côté
Bits, ink, particles, and words.
If you’ve ever taken a mathematics course, chances are that you’ve seen how definitions are one of the common items on the board. Definitions form the heart and soul of mathematics. They allow us to pose problems in very precise ways, yet they are the bane of many students, who get back their assignments and see that points were deducted because things that seemed “minor” and weren’t included were in fact quite important.
Broadly speaking, I classify mathematic into two bins. On the one hand, there’s the mathematics that many students in university must learn, such as calculus and linear algebra. These form the bedrock of many jobs in the corporate world, and so students from business, computer science, finance, and other disciplines have good reason to learn these topics. Likewise, there are parts of mathematics that are useful to scientific disciplines like physics, chemistry, biology, and so on. The common thread here is that these mathematical courses are operational.
When learning about functions, a few properties come up over and over. In particular, we often hear about functions being one-to-one (injective) or onto (surjective). These are important properties of functions that allow one to set up correspondences between sets (bijections), as well as study other features of various functions. I wanted to go through these two properties in a slightly different way than what most sources will do to explain them, so hopefully this will be a good analogy to keep on mind when discussing these two properties.
When you learn a new concept, chances are that there’s some sort of procedure to follow in order to come up with an answer to a problem. This helps students when they are first learning, because it lets them follow clearly laid out steps that will culminate in the correct answer. For example, if we were trying to add two fractions together, we know that a common denominator is needed. As a result, students might be told that they should multiply each fraction by the other’s denominator, which will guarantee that the denominators are the same. It might even be written in a nice three-step method like this: