Do we need to formally teach the Greek Alphabet? [closed]

This is a question that I am purely interested in because I think we never thought about this before in Mathematics education… or even so was not discussed.

When did we learn the Greek alphabets when we learnt mathematics? For example, I was pretty afraid when I saw Pressure=hρg or even the idea where the variable for an angle was θ and that was when I was in 8th grade.

When I went to high school, I got even more confused when I saw letters like μ,λ,σ during statistics class. During calculus class, don’t we remember the δ represnting small changes and our peers write it like a small d? Even only when I was in 4th year of college that I realize Σ represents sum because Sigma and Sum start with ‘S’ and Π represents produce because Pi and Product start with ‘P’ (it’s for my memory but I’m not sure if it was taught this way.

So the question is: do we need to formally teach the Greek alphabet (not all but slowly) and tell them that researchers use these letters frequently to represent certain variables before we teach them? Of course, as student of math, we hardly (if ever) say X follows a Poisson distribution with parameter m or other correct, but “weird” sounding statements. I remember doing it during high school statistics… because I strongly believe that these “seemingly scary” letters “turn off” math students in the pre-college level.


I teach physics. When a Greek letter comes up for the first time in my course, I try to make sure that it’s explicitly described for them, either in lecture or in the text. They need to know that it’s a Greek letter, what it’s called, how to write it, and what sound it makes in Greek. They don’t know these things without being told. In particular, they often see a letter like ρ and just assume it’s some kind of stylized letter “p.” Likewise for γ as “y,” ν as “v.” Teaching the whole alphabet all at once wouldn’t work; they wouldn’t retain it because they wouldn’t be using it. It’s unfortunate that the LaTeX γ looks a lot like a “y,” and someone looking at it can’t tell that there’s supposed to be a loop at the bottom.

You could say that students should just look these things up if they don’t know them. There are two problems with this approach: (1) if they think ρ is just a stylized “p,” then they don’t know that it’s Greek and they need to look it up; (2) if you expect them to look it up, they won’t, and then you’ll have to grit your teeth every time you grade their paper and seem then writing γ as “y.”

Source : Link , Question Author : bryan.blackbee , Answer Author : Community

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