Off the Number Line:  Special Ordinals Cartoon

Interviewer:

This looks funny, but I have to ask: what’s an ordinal?

Cartoonist:

When you use a counting number to identify the position of an item in an ordered sequence, we call that an ordinal number. For example, first, second, and third are ordinals for one, two and three.

Interviewer:

Oh, I get it. We usually represent “second” as 2nd, but here it’s 2th, which would sound like “tooth”. Haha. And 4st refers to the 4th forest. Clever! But what about that 0th with what looks like computer code?

Cartoonist:

Computer programmers often start indexing with zero instead of one.  So, 0th translates to the first item in an array, or the first cycle through a for-loop as shown here. This is a source of many bugs for new programmers. One of the first computer programs I wrote had to display ordinal numbers, and it was cumbersome to have to supply different endings to abbreviate 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th. I had a bug in the code and got funny values like “1nd” and “3th”.

Interviewer:

And out of that we got a new mutant breed of ordinal numbers… I like it! Looking forward to next week’s Off the Number Line cartoon!

Read how educators are using math cartoons in the classroom!

Matthew Peterson, Ph.D., is Co-founder and Chief Research & Development Officer at the MIND Research Institute. James Huang is Senior Visual Designer at MIND Research Institute.

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