Wednesday, December 07, 2016

A Better Understanding

I've been able to calculate the determinant of a matrix forever.  If I didn't learn before my first linear algebra course in 1985, then I learned then.  When I took linear algebra in my master's program, there might have been spent 2 minutes on the subject because it's assumed a student at this level would know how to calculate a determinant.

I remember calculating eigenvalues and eigenvectors back in 1985, and I calculated them again 4 years ago when I took linear algebra.  I can calculate eigenvalues and eigenvectors till the cows come home.

Until today I didn't understand what a determinant "was", or what eigenvalues and eigenvectors "were".  I knew I didn't understand, I assumed there had to be some physical representation for them, I wanted to understand.  But I never got satisfactory answers.

Yesterday a former student--who is majoring in math!--dropped by school to visit.  He saw that under our new standards, we're covering matrix operations in pre-calculus in a lot more depth than we did under the standards in place when he was a student.  We got to talking about what we cover, and I mentioned that I still didn't know what a determinant really "was". 

He pointed me to a YouTube video he found.  I watched it this morning.  Within the first 7 minutes I had a good, big picture understanding of what a determinant is/does.  7 minutes.

Then I looked at the related videos in the column on the right.  There, near the top, was one on eigenvalues and eigenvectors.  Less than 10 minutes later I had the understanding that had up until today had eluded me. 

I like learning :)


Anonymous said...

YouTube videos are the College student's best friend, especially in classes with subpar professors. They're helpful for when you're in a pinch, but you can't beat in person teachers to go more in depth, especially if you have questions. I think teachers can use YouTube as a way to introduce concepts or provide a TL;DR for the less attentive students.

Steve USMA '85 said...

'twas pretty interesting. Too bad I do work with that stuff anymore.

PeggyU said...

Thank you! Shared that with our oldest son.