Today’s post title sounds a little like the “…walked into a bar” series of jokes: “A MOOC and my math lab class walked into a bar…”. However, it’s neither about jokes nor bars, unless one considers the bar (“‾”) , aka overbar, above a decimal number denoting infinite repetition, above the letter x denoting the mean value, or above a letter in boolean algebra denoting the logic operation “not.”  I titled it as such due to the confluence of a passage in an assigned reading from a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC), Introduction to Mathematical Thinking, offered by Prof. Keith Devlin of Stanford, and a comment made by a special ed teacher who often helps out in my algebra math lab / intervention course. Devlin’s passage follows.
“These days, mathematics books tend to be awash with symbols, but mathematical notation no more is mathematics than musical notation is music. A page of sheet music represents a piece of music; the music itself is what you get when the notes on the page are sung or performed on a musical instrument. It is in its performance that the music comes alive and becomes part of our experience; the music exists not on the printed page but in our minds. The same is true for mathematics; the symbols on a page are just a representation of the mathematics. When read by a competent performer (in this case, someone trained in mathematics), the symbols on the printed page come alive—the mathematics lives and breathes in the mind of the reader like some abstract symphony.” 
I was happy to read Devlin’s comparison of mathematical notation to music notes. On occasion, I use the same example with my students, mostly my algebra 1 and math lab students, to help them understand the use of symbols in language, and in specialized applications such as mathematics and music. The fact that many musicians are very mathematical, and vice versa, accompanies my broad brush discussion on symbols and notation; I even like to contrast cymbal with symbol as a way to expand student vocabulary, and have a little linguistic fun at the same time.
Merging with Devlin’s passage in my mind, a comment made by the special ed teacher after a review for an end of marking period test inspired me to write this post. After watching me lead an interactive review of number types in which I reinforced how to distinguish between an irrational and rational number, along with knowing the reason behind the letter Q as used to represent rational numbers, the special ed teacher exclaimed that I was instilling these concepts in my students to prepare them for calculus. As soon as he mentioned it, I gave a resounding “Yes!” since I do hope many of my lower level students, whether in math lab or algebra 1, eventually make it to calculus, even though the likelihood in high school is very remote. While it might even be remote for many of them in college, I nonetheless hope to inspire each of them to give more effort to learning mathematics, which requires much investment of time and effort on their part.
It also turns out that the special education teacher learned something in that lesson, which he explained to me after class as well. It helped me understand why he raised his hand from the back of the room when I asked the class if they learned a bit more about number types, even though we covered it earlier in the marking period. After I asked, most students simply sat and stared, which I rarely allow so I followed up with something like “Come on, now. Did I just waste everyone’s time reviewing something you already knew for tomorrow’s test?” That seemed to get their attention, and most smiled, nodded their heads, said something in the affirmative, or raised their hands, which I took as confirmation of not only their interest, but of their understanding. Time will tell on the latter.
Further explanation from the special ed teacher led to him mentioning “The Big Bang Theory,” which apparently is a TV show; I have not watched broadcast TV in nearly a decade, and cancelled our cable TV subscription once I decided to become a teacher as I could not afford the $100 per month any longer. I indicated that while I knew of the scientific aspect of the big bang, I knew nothing of the show. He smiled and said that in a recent episode he watched, one of the characters used some of the notation that depicts number type, or sets, and he now knew what the “physicist” was discussing. That made me happy, as not only did I help my students, but I helped a colleague, which was a great way to end the week. I say end, since I headed down to Huntington Beach later that same day to attend my brother-in-law’s wedding while all of my students took their end of marking period tests. Now, I simply have to go pick them up tomorrow, Sunday, and grade all 150 or so of them!
 Does anyone know an easy way to use Latex in WordPress? Previously, I used Equation Editor in MS Word to create an equation then inserted an image of it in WordPress. That way seems very tedious. Suggestions??
 Devlin, Keith. “What is mathematics?” Introduction to Mathematical Thinking. Web. Fall 2012.