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LaTeX for High School Students?

  1. Apr 11, 2014 #1
    I teach HS Physics and I find this forum is very helpful, and could be a great resource for my students. However, I am concerned that the learning curve for LaTeX might be a turn off for many high school age kids. Are their some tutorial videos or other introduction materials that I can give my students that would be well scaffolded for this age group?

    Chris Maness
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 11, 2014 #2
    I'm not very convinced the learning curve is too steep, I have always found LaTeX to be quite intuitive. I have recently given LaTeX assignments to my students, and they have taught themselves LaTeX with almost no problems. Sure, these are university students, but it shouldn't be that more difficult to high school students.

    Here are some things you could do to easy the process:
    1) Clearly tell them the steps they need to follow to install LaTeX on their computer. This can be confusing for many students.

    2) One of the hardest parts of LaTeX is writing the pre-amble. So I think it would be best if you would create for them a generic pre-amble that they can use for their first assignments. Later, you could always teach them how to modify this to suit their needs.

    3) For their first assignments, give them a very basic list of commands to use. For example, check the table on our FAQ post: https://www.physicsforums.com/showpost.php?p=3977517&postcount=3 Give them a few assignments to get used to this, then start doing more involved things like arrays and matrices.

    4) Practice makes perfect, so encourage them to do some homework assignments in LaTeX.

    5) Aside from the LaTeX, scientific writing is an art and there are quite a few rules. I really like the following document: http://www.math.washington.edu/~lee/Writing/writing-proofs.pdf The title says it's about proofs, but it applies far more generally than this. Be sure not only to give feedback on the LaTeX code, but also on their scientific writing style.

    6) Also, give them an example LaTeX document that uses all the tricks and commands that you think are important.
    Last edited: Apr 11, 2014
  4. Apr 11, 2014 #3
    I recently installed The program for myself (just two days ago actually!) and to be honest I was quite lost at the beginning as I had no experience with anything like it. But this page really helped me get started on typing some maths: http://www.mecmath.net/latex-tutorial.pdf
  5. Apr 11, 2014 #4
    Why do you need to teach LaTeX to high school students? As much as I like using LaTeX myself, I'm not convinced that it's the best tool for everyone. For most people, it's like learning to drive a car and then only using it to drive to the house at the end of the block.

    Unless most of them are going on to be math/physics/comp sci majors, I personally think a much more useful skill to teach high school kids is how to use the Microsoft Equation Editor. The new equation editor really isn't bad if you turn it to "professional mode" and learn all the shortcuts. Fortunately, most of those short cuts are either intuitive (e.g. "x/y" turns into a fraction) or they're very similar to LaTeX (e.g. "\omega" or "x^2" or "E\vec"). So even if they do go on to learn LaTeX, they'll have a bit of a head start.

    Sure there are significant disadvantages to Microsoft Word, but it gets the job done for most people, and it's a lot easier. Installing LaTeX is hard; learning the syntax takes time, especially when it comes to preamble; and tables and images are a lot more difficult in LaTeX than in Microsoft Word. Unless the vast majority of your students are going into math/physics/comp sci, I think LaTeX is overkill. Even most engineers I know don't bother with LaTeX. Being proficient with the Word equation editor is probably a far more useful skill to learn in high school...
  6. Apr 11, 2014 #5


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    If you don't want to make the students install latex on their computers, then tell them about https://www.writelatex.com/. As you type in the .tex file, your work is compiled. I prefer my Latex installation although for one of my courses I had to use this website. It is good in the sense that you can play about with all of the features without having to worry about whether you have the correct package for a particular item. On the other hand, there were elements that were quite frustrating at times.
  7. Apr 11, 2014 #6


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    Please note that the OP was stating it in the context of THIS FORUM, i.e. using this forum as a resource for the students. Since we use a version of LaTex in typesetting mathematical equation in the forum posts, thus, the connection with the use of LaTex!

  8. Apr 11, 2014 #7
    Oh, I totally missed that part of his post too. I should read more carefully...
  9. Apr 11, 2014 #8
    Thanks, ZapperZ. Even using the little iTex shortcuts on the rich text editor on this site would involve a little LaTeX. I have suggested that they use their smart phone and capture images of their problem and post a public URL. However, I am not sure what the response to that kind of post would be. And there are some technical/legal hurtles for kids posting URL's too. I should probably send out a letter to CYA.

    Chris Maness
  10. Apr 11, 2014 #9
    Oh wow, I completely missed that. My point doesn't really apply here... sorry!
  11. Apr 11, 2014 #10


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    We're not big fans of pictures of handwritten calculations, especially in the homework forums. It's often hard to see what they're writing. And even if they can write legibly, those pictures are kind of a nuisance, and makes many of us think "if they can't be bothered to type the question, why should I take the time to answer it?".

    I don't think LaTeX is too hard to learn. It shouldn't take more than half an hour to get started typing things like ##x^2+1##, ##\sin x##, ##\int_a^b f(x) dx ##, ##e^{2x}##, and $$\gamma=\frac{1}{\sqrt{1-\frac{v^2}{c^2}}}.$$ (Hit the quote button to see how I'm doing it). They don't need to know a lot more than what I used here to get started.

    I see that the link has already been posted, but here it is again, our FAQ post about LaTeX: https://www.physicsforums.com/showpost.php?p=3977517&postcount=3
  12. Apr 11, 2014 #11
    Fredrik, that is a nice FAQ. I will share it with my students. High school kids are a strange breed in my area. They will expend great energy and effort in order to avoid work. Thus rendering the old proverb "The lazy man works twice as hard" true :D I will see if I can get some buy-in from them. I have had very good luck using the forum to help me get unstuck on review problem sets I am doing as I am preparing for the possibility of going back to get my masters in physics after 15 years.

    Chris Maness
  13. Jun 9, 2014 #12


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    Or you can just right-click the equation, and follow the Show Math As... TeX Commands. MathJax is nice that way.
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