[Edu-sig] re: zero-based indexing

Lloyd Hugh Allen lha2 at columbia.edu
Fri Jan 2 12:26:04 EST 2004

Along the way, I did some time observing instruction at Bronx Science. 
As a math major, I was amused that their ground-floor is labeled as the 
zeroth floor. But then, I went to a school where very few buildings had 
a first floor at ground level (usually you would walk in and be on the 
fourth or so), so it didn't bother me at all.

It is difficult to say what is "easy" for students to understand. If you 
use one exclusively, then the other will seem weird. For higher level 
math and science, we definitely want students to be comfortable with 
zero-based. At the same time, when I teach and review matrices in the 
classroom, I use one-based--because the TI that each student uses is 
one-based. I think that I am conscientious about telling them that 
zero-based exists, and what it looks like. On the other hand, when I 
teach sequence and summation, I try to generally use zero-based.

As far as the "you shouldn't count starting at zero" (I use the digests, 
so I don't remember who said it and won't quote the entire email), 
surely most of us have seen the Sierpinski (usually, I think) anecdote 
related on (among other places) 

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