One out of three

I recently posed one of my favorite questions of all time to a student I’m tutoring. He’s something of a natural, and got it remarkably quickly. I personally spent hours on it the first time I heard it, and then years to understand all the subtlety of it. And yet, it’s possible that a group of kids with no mathematical …

Teachers struggle in math

Link: Teachers struggle in math This article hits on a disturbing (and common) thread: teachers of young children often have very little positive experience with math to pass on.

Math is the lie that makes us realize the truth.

Link: Math is the lie that makes us realize the truth. A great guest column in the NYTimes on the mathematics of scale. That such a simple idea is so applicable always strikes me as profound.

What faith is required in mathematics

Imagine I took a small handful of pennies and showed them to you clumped together, then spread the same collection out into a wider array; you know, without having to think about it, that the pennies are worth the same amount either way. It’s the same group of pennies, after all. To children, this isn’t obvious. The psychologist Piaget noticed …

The meaning of the search

Link: The meaning of the search This beautiful essay in the last edition of Wired magazine gave a really nice explanation of why science (and math) is worth doing, even if we don’t get the answers we’re looking for. Worth the read. On a related note, I discovered an erroneous assumption I made a while back that invalidates the last …

The moment, again

I got some requests to clarify what I meant when I said that this was a moment for mathematics in our culture. Let me explain. For the first time ever, math is starting to be hip. When I was in high school I couldn’t imagine math being respected by those cool, we-do-stupid-dangerous-things people. Perhaps they still don’t respect it. But …

Free time to work

I have the quarter off from teaching, which means it’s the perfect time to get some serious work done on my thesis. The fact that the work that it most important in my life is also the least urgent—I could do nothing for six months and no one would know or care—means I have to be especially disciplined with myself. …

Beauty Through Mathematics

Link: Beauty Through Mathematics Here’s another group out to show the world a vision of beauty through mathematics: Imaginary. Computers have made wonderful things possible in the realm of visualization. It is so labor intensive to get pictures this good without them. Also, on the topic of mathematics having it’s moment in the world—Germany just named 2008 the Year of …

My favorite symbol

Earlier this year a middle schooler emailed me to ask me what my favorite mathematical symbol was. I didn’t have a good answer, because I’d never thought about it at length, and I ended up giving him the old standby answer: 0. The apparent contradictory nature of having something stand for nothing kept humanity from developing it for some time, …