Saturday, January 17, 2009

Trippy Derivatives

The solid boy in the football jersey startles me whenever he sees the calculus in poetic clarity. His voice, full of questions, can cut across the room. Despite his doubtful tone, he reveals the truth about what I'm saying in a way that I can't, because I learned it all for the first time too many years ago.

"Why did you give us the surface area formula?" he says. "Don't we just need volume for this problem?"

"Yes," I say, and I start to walk away. It was a trick, a decoy, a distractor. Something makes me stop. "But look at your derivative for volume. Isn't it just the surface area formula?"

"Whoa," he says, in words that could easily be construed as sarcastic, but which don't come off that way. "Trippy."

"Yes, but doesn't that make sense? Doesn't the derivative just take you down one dimension?"

I walk away to answer another question. The students are so stressed out about their final. I feel like I'm performing triage these days. Even as I go, I hear his awestruck voice, to his football buddy. "I mean, what if someone took the derivative of the world?"

I stop long enough to absorb the beauty of his awe. What, indeed? What if someone had the power to take that kind of derivative and leave us all flat?

1 comment:

OneN said...

Funny...derivatives just tripped me up, I never viewed them as trippy. I am so not a math geek, and I'm kind of sad about that...I think there is a whole world out there I don't see. I guess I'll have to live with my science view.