M.A.T.H. Tips: Vol. 30

What Made you LOVE Math?

Can you remember what made you first love math? My guess is it was not the quadratic formula. If you are anything like me it was patterns, puzzles, cool number tricks, and not math class that got you interested in mathematics. I saw a book titled “Math Recess” by Sunil Singh and Christopher Brownell. I haven’t read it (on my list) but just the title got me thinking of some of the things I found fun about math early on. As you start to think about prepping for fall (ZZZZZ) get back in touch with what you loved first or best. I challenge you to have a little fun with math this summer. Remember why you love it. Get in touch with that spark again.

I’d love to see some comments on the math topics that first and still interest you. What’s your Math Recess?

Here 10 of my favorite math recess topics:

Baseball is a big part of my life, so anything baseball stats is good. When I was young I devoured the backs of baseball cards, I could recite them like my ABC’s. Here’s a recent look at how the whole “Homerun Derby Curse” is a myth.

I remember being very young looking at my dad’s Life Science Library title on Mathematics and seeing Zeno’s Paradox the first time. It was always a favorite.

The math of juggling.

Hello, my name is Kelly and I’m a Harry Potter addict. Love this article on the genetics of Harry Potter!

I definitely remember working on that puzzle where you use 4 fours and try to make the natural numbers using them. This video shows how the entire set of natural numbers (yes out infinitely) can be created using just 4 fours. AMAZING!

I have always loved Ben Franklin, his work on magic squares is definitely something I go back to. This site has great Franklin info.

Of course Pascal’s Triangle is the gift that keeps on giving.

I’m a beekeeper so the Fibonacci sequence and its actual connection to the family trees of bees, pure gold (honey that is).

I learned the old binary numbers magic trick as a youngster. I still use it on my math for liberal arts students each term.

I’ll just let you Google this last one, I’m sure there is plenty on You Tube. How many times did I watch “The Human Calculator” infomercial and practice those tricks. Turn on the Human Calculator within? Yes, please!

So go read your back issues of Journal Recreational Mathematics (they still show up on Ebay now and then) or try the series they morphed into: Topics in Recreational Mathematics (available on Amazon). There is also the “Best Writing on Mathematics” annual (again on Amazon).

Feel free to comment on some of your go to “recess” faves.

Read: Reaching for the Moon

Reaching for The Moon: The Autobiography of NASA Mathematician Katherine Johnson is a book you should put in your reading queue.

It is written for young adults so it reads very quickly for an adult reader. It tells the actual story that you may have seen in the movie Hidden Figures. It expands on it, actually. Because she is over 100 years old, this autobiography covers recollections from the late 1920’s right on through to today. She starts as a young girl that loved to count and ends as a woman receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Johnson writes about her struggles and successes in a very matter-of-fact way, not shying away from discussing racism she faced through her life. She is a former teacher so you can almost hear her saying “Now let me tell you about ______, boys and girls.” There are digressions where she sets the stage for what was going on in the world and country as she was making her way. Rosa Parks and Jackie Robinson make appearances. Major Supreme Court cases pertaining to race and significant events like the assassination of JFK are included. She writes about events that span 10 decades of race relations in the United States. When she concludes her story with a trip to the Obama White House, you literally want to cheer.

She makes known some of the “dramatic license” that was taken with her story in the movie Hidden Figures. Spoiler alert: she didn’t run from building to building to use the facilities. She frequently returns to a theme, something her Daddy taught her, paraphrasing, “You are as good as anyone else, but no better.” At once she was told to think of herself not as less than because of her race but also not as greater than because of her intellect.

This and several other books about Johnson and her co-workers are must reads.


Data that Delivers

When our understanding of the world is based solely on daily news, which is often focused on single events, we risk ignoring the long-lasting changes that impact and reshape our world. If you’re like us, you’re always looking for new ways to engage students and help them understand math’s relevancy in real-world scenarios. Our World in Data is an open access and open source site that aims to promote understanding of how and why the world is changing by “measuring what we care about” and letting “facts and research inform our worldview.”

On the Our World in Data site, you can browse data visualizations and research by a variety of topics, including Population, Health, Education, Media, and Culture. In an article titled Trust, Esteban Ortiz-Ospina and Max Roser present data on worldwide varying attitudes toward trust. The visualization shows the percentage of people, by country, who agree with the statement “most people can be trusted” and how this percentage has changed over time. Students will notice that though countries vary widely in their level of trust, these percentages are relatively stable. Only a few countries show significant growth or decline over time.

In an article titled Internet, Julia Murphy and Roser describe the growth of the internet accompanied by a world map that depicts the share of the population using the internet over time. Drag the bar on the bottom left to view a specific year. Students can investigate which areas of the world are experiencing recent growth in internet access, and when certain areas reached a plateau.

Consider using this great resource in your plans for group or application projects, or simply to encourage students to investigate and think critically about changes going on in the world. With 16 topics and even more sub-topics to choose from, there’s sure to be something to interest everyone.

Esteban Ortiz-Ospina and Max Roser (2019) – “Trust”. Published online at OurWorldInData.org. Retrieved from: ‘https://ourworldindata.org/trust‘ [Online Resource]

Julia Murphy and Max Roser (2019) – “Internet”. Published online at OurWorldInData.org. Retrieved from: ‘https://ourworldindata.org/internet‘ [Online Resource]