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Symbolic Math

Visual symbols are found everywhere...on signs, on television, in magazines, etc. Some of them seem quite strange...and seem to challenge us to desipher their meaning.

Consider these two actual signs (taken from Darren Barefoot's weird blog that includes the Hall of Technical Documentation Weirdness). Any idea as to what they mean?

Similarily, mathematics is filled with visual symbols that students must interpret. Is there any rhyme or reason as to why a particular symbol is used? Think about the symbols for the four basic operations...it could lead to a great class discussion. And who made the decision as to what symbol will be used for what concept/operation?

As an interesting experiment to start the year, you might put large pictures of mathematical symbols on walls throughout your classroom. Focus on using those symbols that students have not confronted as yet...such as the summation sign , the infinite product sign , the logical "for all" " and "there exists" $, the integral sign, etc. Then, challenge your students to try to guess what the symbols denote....or even give them a mathematical idea (e.g. rounding a number) and ask them to come up with a symbol for it. [Note: For more help on this, see this week's Resource page).]