Dealing with the fear of being a boring teacher.

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teaching

# How I Teach Calculus: A Comedy (The Papoose is Imminent)

What situation comedies have gained the modern married couple is a vocabulary of sarcasm, the rhetoric of man-children, and  tacit approval of snide dispositions. While this infantile image of marriage is quite funny to those who are unmarried, it’s a pale, sad homunculus compared to the work and triumph that is a real marriage.

Not my baby, but cute!

That said, I put my foot in my mouth down to the ankle the other day. Let’s watch!

Enter Shawn, holding the baby, fitfully bobbing up and down and left and right. Baby is emitting sounds that evoke some strange amalgam of rhinoceros and a whoopee cushion. Wife is sitting, conversing intently with the mother-in-law.

Shawn: Phew! My arms are tired, this baby is heavy!

Wife: without turning head, in a perfect dead pan. She sure is.

Shawn: I mean, it’s like carrying a football that wants to be fumbled!

Wife: That’s nice; trying carrying her for nine months!

Shawn: a pensive moment passes where the incorrect neuron fires in shawn’s don’t-be-stupid filter. Well, it’s not like the baby was this big the whole time. I mean, it’s a question of time and weight, isn’t it?

Mother-in-law and Wife: death glare.

So, I did what any reasonable husband-cum-father would do, I brought the story up with my calculus class, and they totally bit. They came up with the following question:

How long will it take for Mr. Cornally to have done the same baby carrying as his wife, if he holds the baby nonstop after she is born?

This question took a lot of arguing to develop. Some students claimed that my wife and I would probably split time holding the baby. Some argued that we’d need to include all of the extra weight that women have to gain during pregnancy (uterus, placenta, extra blood, reserves, etc…)

This is exactly the kind of conversation I want to be having with my students. It shows me they are thinking quantitatively about a situation with a buhjillion different variables. This is especially difficult when the situation involves real curvy things, because then it requires calculus.

# The Quest for baby(t)

So, we set off. The students knew that they had to find the weight of the baby over time. The first thing they did was ask me for this data (surprise!). I didn’t have it. However we did know one thing: at 9 months 3 days, my baby weighed 9 pounds.

So, the students looked up data (they used babycenter.com) and then adjusted it to match my baby. This was awesome, because it turns out my baby was a tank. They had to make all sorts of assumptions about when my baby would have diverged from the average baby. This forced us to talk about the science of fetal development and many other rich things that aren’t math but are still classified as learning.

The students then went about fitting functions to their data. This was a crapshoot. Some wanted to use regression methods, others were happy letting Excel fit a random trendline, others even used OSX Grapher to fit a line, which was nice because it actually does the Chi-Squared testing somewhat transparently. I really didn’t care what method they used, just that they knew they had to use some method for fitting a curve other than the extended-thumb-and-shut-one-eye method.

Here’s what we came up with:

Baby Mass (grams) vs. Week of Pregnancy. Red Line: Average wimpy babies. Blue Line: Dozer-like Iowa babies.

My wife’s component is then the integral from 0 to 37 weeks. My ouptut is another graph, which starts after this one ends.

The next graph was slightly more difficult to come by. We don’t really know what my baby’s weight will be in the future, what we do know is that the my baby was gaining about an ounce per day, they ran with this simple model:

$Baby(t) = 144 oz + 7t$

Where t is in weeks.

The students then set the two integrals equal to each other in order to find the time when I’ve done the same amount of carrying as my wife:

$Prego = \int^b_0{144+7t \: dt}$

This integral was super awesome for them to work out, because we’ve never had a situation in class where the limits of integration represented an answer to our question. They came up with the idea of solving it from the fundamental theorem, and I was proud.

About 2 months. This of course is silly, as I can’t get enough of holding my cooing little swaddle monster, but hey, at least the argument was settled: I’m an idiot.

12 thoughts on “How I Teach Calculus: A Comedy (The Papoose is Imminent)
• Sean Lyman says:

As a fellow physics teacher and father of two wee ones, congrates and keep up the good work. I too know that feeling when the don’t-be-stupid filter malfunctions.

• JoVE says:

This is brilliant. One of the better examples of “what are we ever going to use this for” that I have seen. :-)

• Pitner says:

I love your blog. I had feared that with the arrival of a child the quality of blog/teaching would decline, but I should have had more faith. Major kudos for braving the postpartum waters with this post.

• Mother in law says:

Just wondering how you would calculate the differences in exertion when you put the baby down after carrying her and how mom was finally able to do so. Seems like that should be factored in.

• Wife says:

If you managed to both carry her AND manufacture within your body all the nutrients she needed to make said growth possible, and after doing that, figured out a way to transport the nutrients from your body to hers, maybe then I’d be impressed. Until then, you can continue to impress me with your lullabies about ham. :)

• Andrew says:

There’s another rich problem that you’re skirting with that 1oz/day assumption, and it’s one where the data is accessible and cute! Papoose + Hanging Scale + webcam = science!

• Andrew says:

There’s another rich problem that you’re skirting with that 1oz/day assumption, and it’s one where the data is accessible and cute! Papoose + Hanging Scale + webcam = science!

• Mother in law says:

HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!

• Mel says:

I don’t have anything incredibly intelligent to say here…but this made me laugh! Strong work.

• Jason Buell says:

While you may be an excellent teacher, clearly you need dad/husband advice. In case you were wondering, “using math to model growth of baby = good” and “using math to predict when your wife will get back to pre-pregnancy weight = bad.” Well done though. And congrats again.

• Shawn says:

@Jason: Woah! We’re totally not talking about my wife’s weight at all, only the baby’s weight!!

=shawn

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