Posts Tagged ‘mathematics’

I’ve read before about inventive approaches to teaching math — and my daughter-in-law, who coaches teachers of math, probably knows most of them. But recently, the Washington Post examined a new method, one that uses dance.

Reporter Moriah Balingit described observing a kindergarten game that “actually was a serious math lesson about big and small and non-standard measurements. Dreamed up by [drama teacher Melissa] Richardson and kindergarten teacher Carol Hunt, it aims to get the children to think of animal steps as units of measurement, using them to mark how many it takes each animal to get from a starting line to the target.

“[Today] teachers are using dance, drama and the visual arts to teach a variety of academic subjects in a more engaging way. …

“The Wolf Trap Institute, based at the Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts, brought Richardson to Westlawn Elementary through a program that pairs art teachers with early-childhood educators to formulate math lessons. The program also provides professional development to teachers.

“And the program appears to have been effective: A study by the American Institutes for Research found that students in classes headed by Wolf Trap-trained teachers performed better on math assessments than did their peers being taught by teachers who were not in the program. …

“Researcher Mengli Song said the students in the program did not necessarily learn additional math content but they did demonstrate a better grasp of the material. And the effect was comparable to other early-childhood interventions. …

“Jennifer Cooper, director of the Wolf Trap Institute for Early Learning Through the Arts, said arts integration — particularly lessons where children get to move and play — is a good way to reach a lot of children who struggle with traditional book lessons.

“ ‘By embodying a concept . . . and putting it through your body in a multi-sensory way, you’re going to reach a lot of different kinds of learners,’ Cooper said.”

Read more at the Washington Post, here.

Photo: Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post
Teaching artist Melissa Richardson, right, from the Wolf Trap Institute, watches her kindergarten students at Westlawn Elementary School take large bear steps during a math lesson in Falls Church, Va.

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At Mass Live, Carolyn Robbins writes that a retired math professor known for having a favorite number is being honored with his own road sign. This could only happen at Hampshire College.

“There are probably an infinite number of ways to say goodbye to a beloved math professor, but Hampshire College’s David Kelly would prefer his students and colleagues keep it to just 17.

“Kelly, who has taught the mathematical and social history of the number 17 during his four and a half decades of teaching, didn’t want a party. So, instead of a dinner reception, Hampshire College decided to give Kelly the lasting tribute he preferred. …

“Elizabeth Conlisk, a professor of public health, together with Hampshire College President Jonathan Lash, worked to make it happen. All of the 15 mph speed limit signs on campus have come down and been replaced with ones that read 17 mph.

“Kelly’s reaction of seeing the new 17 mph speed limit signs for the first time: ” ‘It felt very good,’ he said. ‘And soon after, someone from admissions told me a prospective student was visiting campus, and when he drove up and saw the 17 mph sign he said, “I’m going here.” ‘ ” More here.

Photo: Hampshire College, Amherst, Massachusetts
Professor David Kelly taught the mathematical and social history of the number 17. In his honor, all the 15 mph speed limit signs on campus came down, replaced by 17 mph speed limit signs.

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Where was mime-matics when I was a child convinced I was bad at math? Pretty sure I would have changed my mind after a few laughs at this comedy show.

Robert Strauss describes it for the New York Times.

“Without saying a word, a man walks on stage carrying a case full of small plungers. Each time he reaches in the case to take some plungers out, he tries to array them in order on a table in front of him, but he always has one left over. Five, seven, 13: No matter what number, there is still that one left alone, and the man gets visibly, but silently, more exasperated at each turn.

“The man is a mime named Tim Chartier, whose day job is associate professor in the department of mathematics and computer science at Davidson College in North Carolina. The plunger skit and many others that he and his wife, Tanya, have developed are part of their Mime-matics business. Having learned from the master of the craft, Marcel Marceau, they use their skills in mime to teach mathematics in a decidedly unconventional way. …

“At Davidson, he teaches a course called Finite Math, which often fills the math/science requirement for history and English majors.

“ ‘It is probably the last time these students will ever take a math course, so I see myself as the last chance they have to have a good experience with math,’ he said. ‘On the first day, I tell them that many of them will one day sit at a table where their kid will ask whether he or she should like math and science. I tell them I want them to get one story to tell that kid that will be positive in the next 16 weeks. It is an important moment in that class. They start looking for a good experience.’

“The Chartiers, who themselves have two children, 8 and 12, said they wanted their approach to Mime-matics to deliver the same positive experience. Even when they perform at colleges, the audiences are filled with children and their parents.

“ ‘Kids start laughing at the sketches and that frees up their parents, who might have long been afraid of math. The kids break the ice,’ said Ms. Chartier, who added that she particularly wants to fight the perception that math is for boys and writing is for girls, and hopes that Mime-matics entices girls to become more attracted to math.” More here.

Photo: Andy McMillan for The New York Times
Tim Chartier practicing a skit. He and his wife perform at colleges, math conferences, festivals and schools across the country.

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I love stories like this in any field, even a field as foreign to me as mathematics.

A mathematical puzzle that most experts didn’t expect to see solved in their lifetime has been quietly mastered by a professor in New Hampshire. He just got an idea and worked it out.

Carolyn Y. Johnson covers the story for the Boston Globe:

“A soft-spoken, virtually unknown mathematician from the University of New Hampshire has found himself overnight a minor celebrity, flooded with requests to give talks at top universities.

“On May 9, mathematician Yitang Zhang, who goes by Tom, received word that the editors of a prestigious journal, Annals of Mathematics, had accepted a paper in which he took an important step toward proving a very old problem in mathematics.”

He showed that there are “an infinite number of primes separated by less than 70 million. [It] excites mathematicians because it is the first time anyone has proved there are an infinite number of primes separated by an actual number. … News of the feat rippled across the math world.

“ ‘This is certainly one of the most spectacular results of the last decade,’ Alex Kontorovich, a mathematician at Yale University, wrote in an e-mail. ‘Many people expected not to see this result proved in their lifetime.’

“Zhang said that he began to think seriously about solving the problem four years ago. … The epiphany did not come to him until July 3 of last year, when he realized he could modify existing techniques, building on what others had tried.

“ ‘It is hard to answer “how,” ‘ Zhang wrote in an e-mail. ‘I can only say that it came to my mind very suddenly.’

“The mathematician lives a simple life that he says gives him the ability to concentrate on his work. … Zhang’s achievement shows what can be accomplished by the elegant instrument of the human mind, working alone.

“ ‘Keep thinking, think of it everyday,’ Zhang said he would tell himself. ..

“ ‘The old adage is that mathematics is a young person’s game, and moreover most of the top results come from people or groups of people known to produce them,’ Kontorovich wrote. “Professor Zhang has demonstrated not only that one can continue to be creative and inventive well into middle-age [he’s in his 50s], but that someone working hard enough, even (or especially) in isolation, can make astounding breakthroughs.’ ”

I love the reminder about the importance of time to think. Everyone needs time to think. Even people who are not solving math puzzles for the ages.

Photo: Boston Globe

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Photograph: South End Knitters

Today I am thinking about the South End Knitters, the stealth street artists who wrap their knitting around parking meters and fire hydrants and telephone poles.

Writes Linda Matchan in the Boston Globe, “The South End Knitters’ weekly meetings at a Washington Street café seem innocuous, but don’t be fooled. Over knitting needles and yarn at the long table they’ve commandeered, they are contemplating something far more mischievous than a sweater. They’re graffiti knitters, and they’re plotting their next target. …

“As with graffiti, no two tags in the yarn-bomber subculture are alike. They range from sleeves on parking meters to tubes on tree limbs to sweaters on statues: A recent high-profile example is the neon pink sweater that the New York street knitter Olek crocheted in December for the 16-foot ‘Charging Bull’ statue on Wall Street.”

What put me in mind of the South End Knitters was an extraordinary post at the WordPress blog Pickled Hedgehog Dilemma, which describes a crochet effort that is drawing a lot of attention to the plight of vanishing corals.

Concerned about the effect of global warming on reefs, Margaret Wertheim and her twin sister got an idea that involved “crocheting corals. They used a crocheting technique invented by mathematicians in 1997 to model hyperbolic shapes called hyperbolic crocheting. … This ended up being a perfect technique for producing coral reproductions. …

“They crocheted a lot of corals,” continues Pickled Hedgehog, ” then they did something to change the world. They shared their corals with art museums. They got a community in Chicago to crochet with them. Then the crafting became a movement and groups all over the world started to crochet corals.”

Read Pickled Hedgehog Dilemma’s illustrated summary here. And if you have the time, this TED talk is super.

Pickled Hedgehog Dilemma

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