Street-Fighting Math

Teaches, as the antidote to rigor mortis, the art of educated guessing and opportunistic problem solving.

About The Course

*Note - This is an Archived course*

This is a past/archived course. At this time, you can only explore this course in a self-paced fashion. Certain features of this course may not be active, but many people enjoy watching the videos and working with the materials. Make sure to check for reruns of this course.

Too much mathematical rigor teaches rigor mortis: the fear of making an unjustified leap even when it lands on a correct result. Instead of paralysis, have courage: Shoot first and ask questions later. Although unwise as public policy, it is a valuable problem-solving philosophy and the theme of this course: how to guess answers without a proof or an exact calculation, in order to develop insight.

You will learn this skill by mastering six reasoning tools---dimensional analysis, easy cases, lumping, pictorial reasoning, taking out the big part, and analogy. The applications will include mental calculation, estimating population growth rates, understanding drag without differential equations, singing musical intervals to estimate logarithms, approximating integrals, summing infinite series, and turning differential equations into algebra.

Your learning will be supported by regular readings that you discuss with other students, by short tablet videos, by quick problems to help you check your understanding, by weekly homework problems, review and and a final exam. You will work hard, and, by the end of the course, have learned a rough-and-ready approach to using mathematics to understand the world.

All required readings are available within the courseware, courtesy of The MIT Press. A print version of the course textbook, Street-Fighting Math, is also available for purchase. The MIT Press is offering enrolled students a special 30% discount on books ordered directly through the publisher’s website. To take advantage of this offer, please use promotion code SFM30 at The MIT Press. 

Recommended Background

algebra, trigonometry, and some knowledge of single-variable calculus