what’s awesome about algebra

As students are enrolling in pre-algebra and algebra in droves, I thought I would post this video, which is part 1 of a magic trick illustrating the mind-boggling power of algebra. It is very common to learn how to do algebra without learning why to do it. To me, this magic trick gives a sense of how useful and powerful …


Revisiting Internal Motivation

There is a tension between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation in teaching mathematics. Our answer to the classic student questions Why do I need to learn this? is a good measure of where we look for motivation. You can appeal to the extrinsic, or instrumental, rewards: you need math to succeed in get a good grade, to succeed in middle school, …


Productively Stuck

When I try to describe great teaching, I notice a certain phrase pops out of my mouth again and again. Productively stuck. As in, the goal of the teacher is to get her students productively stuck as soon as possible. As in, we want to hook the students with a compelling question and then leave them productively stuck. As in, …


In science, questions are much more valuable than the answers.”

The title of this blog post is the last line to a beautiful, short film called GÖMBÖC. For a film where almost nothing happens, it’s compelling watching. And wonderfully, it captures the simple, profound, mathematical joy of thinking really, really hard about a beautiful problem.  


Goat River Crossing

This is a post about owning your mathematical experience, problem-solving, and flexibility. It also involves our goats—yes, we have goats—and a story of what happened when we took them hiking this summer. What you need to know about our goats is that they hate to get wet (notice their bleats when they encounter the river in the video above). Still, …

Math and the Drug War

The drug war is one issue that tends to be too hot for presidential politics. You won’t hear any questions at the debates about it, and you can be sure the candidates won’t be talking about it. But there’s a proposal in front of voters here in Washington State this November that has some pretty big implications for the drug …

Bill Clinton Teaches Arithmetic, Plus Exciting News on abc

Last week was a very big week for mathematics. First of all, Bill Clinton made arithmetic the centerpiece of his speech at the DNC. While it may not be new to let arithmetic affect policy, it has been absent from politics for some time. John Stewart hailed its return saying I never thought I’d say this but I have missed …


Nine Dangerous Things & Math Isn’t Necessary

I like this little writeup on Nine Dangerous Things You Were Taught In School from Forbes. It pithily gets into the consequences of having a system that’s so standardized that is responsible for educating–a fundamentally intimate and nonstandard task, if you do it right. I find myself in a place of tension on this topic. I believe in public education, …


Pythagorean Video II: Proving the Theorem

I was planning to redo this video, but with the Julia Robinson Festival coming up on Sunday, it’s going to be a while before I get it together, so here it is, as it is. Let me know what you think. And here’s the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VHWTS01uI9U


Wolfram, computer-based math, “and making maths beautiful”

I’ve had Conrad Wolfram on my mind for some time. He gave a TED talk on computer-based math a while back, and just gave an updated talk at Learning Without Frontiers. Here’s the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gsWKyFg9IdM His premise is challengingly obvious: teaching should be motivated by good problems, and they should use every tool at their disposal to solve them. In …