College Math Teaching

February 22, 2018

What is going on here: sum of cos(nx)…

Filed under: analysis, derivatives, Fourier Series, pedagogy, sequences of functions, series, uniform convergence — collegemathteaching @ 9:58 pm

This started innocently enough; I was attempting to explain why we have to be so careful when we attempt to differentiate a power series term by term; that when one talks about infinite sums, the “sum of the derivatives” might fail to exist if the sum is infinite.

Anyone who is familiar with Fourier Series and the square wave understands this well:

\frac{4}{\pi} \sum^{\infty}_{k=1} \frac{1}{2k-1}sin((2k-1)x)  = (\frac{4}{\pi})( sin(x) + \frac{1}{3}sin(3x) + \frac{1}{5}sin(5x) +.....) yields the “square wave” function (plus zero at the jump discontinuities)

Here I graphed to 2k-1 = 21

Now the resulting function fails to even be continuous. But the resulting function is differentiable except for the points at the jump discontinuities and the derivative is zero for all but a discrete set of points.

(recall: here we have pointwise convergence; to get a differentiable limit, we need other conditions such as uniform convergence together with uniform convergence of the derivatives).

But, just for the heck of it, let’s differentiate term by term and see what we get:

(\frac{4}{\pi})\sum^{\infty}_{k=1} cos((2k-1)x) = (\frac{4}{\pi})(cos(x) + cos(3x) + cos(5x) + cos(7x) +.....)...

It is easy to see that this result doesn’t even converge to a function of any sort.

Example: let’s see what happens at x = \frac{\pi}{4}: cos(\frac{\pi}{4}) = \frac{1}{\sqrt{2}}

cos(\frac{\pi}{4}) + cos(3\frac{\pi}{4}) =0

cos(\frac{\pi}{4}) + cos(3\frac{\pi}{4}) + cos(5\frac{\pi}{4}) = -\frac{1}{\sqrt{2}}

cos(\frac{\pi}{4}) + cos(3\frac{\pi}{4}) + cos(5\frac{\pi}{4}) + cos(7\frac{\pi}{4}) = 0

And this repeats over and over again; no limit is possible.

Something similar happens for x = \frac{p}{q}\pi where p, q are relatively prime positive integers.

But something weird is going on with this sum. I plotted the terms with 2k-1 \in \{1, 3, ...35 \}

(and yes, I am using \frac{\pi}{4} csc(x) as a type of “envelope function”)

BUT…if one, say, looks at cos(29x) + cos(31x) + cos(33x) + cos(35x)

we really aren’t getting a convergence (even at irrational multiples of \pi ). But SOMETHING is going on!

I decided to plot to cos(61x)

Something is going on, though it isn’t convergence. Note: by accident, I found that the pattern falls apart when I skipped one of the terms.

This is something to think about.

I wonder: for all x \in (0, \pi), sup_{n \in \{1, 3, 5, 7....\}}|\sum^{n}_{k \in \{1,3,..\}}cos(kx)| \leq |csc(x)| and we can somehow get close to csc(x) for given values of x by allowing enough terms…but the value of x is determined by how many terms we are using (not always the same value of x ).


February 11, 2018

Posting went way down in 2017

Filed under: advanced mathematics, complex variables, editorial — collegemathteaching @ 12:05 am

I only posted 3 times in 2017. There are many reasons for this; one reason is the teaching load, the type of classes I was teaching, etc.

I spent some of the year creating a new course for the Business College; this is one that replaced the traditional “business calculus” class.

The downside: there is a lot of variation in that course; for example, one of my sections has 1/3 of the class having a math ACT score of under 20! And we have many who are one standard deviation higher than that.

But I am writing. Most of what I write this semester can be found at the class blog for our complex variables class.

Our class does not have analysis as a prerequisite so it is a challenge to make it a truly mathematical class while getting to the computationally useful stuff. I want the students to understand that this class is NOT merely “calculus with z instead of x” but I don’t want to blow them away with proofs that are too detailed for them.

The book I am using does a first pass at integration prior to getting to derivatives.

Blog at