Wild About Math! Making Math fun and accessible


Math Pickle live and interactive talk 7/27

There's a live talk tonight by Gordon Hamilton of Math Pickle, which is one of my very favorite Math sites.

Math Pickle: Million-dollar problems with grades 7 to 12.

During the event, Gordon Hamilton will talk about solving real million-dollar problems with middle and high school students.

The recording will be at

All events in the Math 2.0 weekly series:


The perfect formula for toast

From the BBC:

Food scientists at the UK's University of Leeds have developed a formula for making the perfect piece of toast.

The equation - which details butter and toast temperature - took three months and cost £10,000 to develop.

Researchers' found that people think the perfect piece of toast should have partly melted butter patches on it, improving its taste and texture.

For this to work, the butter should be applied at fridge temperature of five degrees Celsius, the equation shows.

The formula was developed following research commissioned by the butter brand Lurpak made by Leeds-based Arla Foods. More.

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Conrad Wolfram on teaching Math

Here's a recent interview in Madrid with Conrad Wolfram titled: The right way to teach math.

What do you think?

Wolfram founded ComputerBasedMath.org to change how Math is taught:

How do we fix math education? The importance of math to jobs, society, and thinking has exploded over the last few decades. Meanwhile, math education has gotten stuck or has even slipped backward. Why has this chasm opened up? It's all about computers: when they do the calculating, people can work on harder questions, try more concepts, and play with a multitude of new ideas.

computerbasedmath.org is a project to build a completely new math curriculum with computer-based computation at its heart—alongside a campaign to refocus math education away from historical hand-calculating techniques and toward relevant and conceptually interesting topics.

Conrad Wolfram also presented a TED Global 2010 talk.

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Engaging summer Math activities at CTK Insights

Alexander Bogomolny has a number of outstanding "Cut-the-knot" sites that educate and inspire Math teacher and students. One of his sites, CTK Insights, has a great twelve part series of engaging Math activities for the summer break.

Here are the introductory paragraphs for the first three activities. To find the other nine just go to the day 3 activity and follow the link at the bottom of that article to get to day 4, follow the day 4 forward link to day 5 and so on.

Day 1

Mathematics is certainly not (only) about counting, graphing and solving equations. I do not believe that every child can reach beyond those. I do not believe that a child who does not show an inclination to dig deeper into math mysteries lacks in intellect or creativity. I do think that it is worth trying to find out. I child who gets excited on a discovery of uncommon patterns will have enriched his/her life experiences. [ Full article ]

Day 2

An engaging activity has been described by Martin Gardner in his Mathematical Games column in Scientific American, v 201, No 6, Dec 1959 and later included in one of his collections, New Mathematical Diversions. Rather recently, an upgraded variant has emerged as the Japanese ladders game. Amazingly, neither Gardner has mentioned the Japanese sources in 1959, nor half a century later his article has been referred to in the latest development. [ Full article ]

Day 3

Counting a group of objects can be done in many different ways. The most fundamental idea is that counting is at all possible in the sense that, regardless of the manner in which it is performed, the result is always the same. For example, place random numbers in a rectangular array and then compute separately the column and row sums. Then adding the column sums gives the same total as adding up the row sums. For little children the array and the numbers inside should be small. Letting all the numbers be 0 or 1 not only makes the activity more accessible to younger children but also adds a twist with a mathematical flavor. [ Full article ]


Review: The Best Writing on Mathematics 2010

Imagine for a moment that you had a friend who was a voracious reader of Math journals and periodicals. And, imagine that this friend had a knack for finding articles that were of interest to mathematicians and non-mathematicians alike by well-known writers and by new talent. Would you be interested in reading a few dozen of these articles? Mircea Pitici, editor of The Best Writing on Mathematics 2010 is such a friend, even if you've never met him.

Publisher Princeton University Press has an interview with Pitici at their blog where he answers the question of how many articles he read to select the ones that got into the book.

It’s difficult to give an estimate, but let me try. I see several thousand articles in one year but obviously I discard most of them quickly (as far as this particular book series is concerned). Not necessarily because they are not worthy of my attention or do not deserve reading; I just know by reading the first paragraph or by a cursory look at the prose and the exposition that they wouldn’t fit in the book I envision. Perhaps I gave serious attention and read thoroughly in direct connection with this volume about four-five times more texts than I finally chose—which means 150 or so. That is a rough approximation.

The end result is 35 interesting and varied articles in six areas: Mathematica Alive, Mathematicians and the Practice of Mathematics, Mathematics and Its Applications, Mathematics Education, History and Philosophy of Mathematics, and Mathematics in the media. The contents are here.


Find me on LinkedIn

I'm about to make a big change in my life to have my work be aligned with my deep love of Math. Part of that change is going to be about having richer connections with other people who love Math. If you and I have made a nice connection through this blog and if you are a Math person, especially someone who is working to popularize Math, I'd love to be connected with you on LinkedIn. Just click on this link and request that I add you to my network. You can use the email sol dot lederman at gmail dot com. I find LinkedIn to be a great way to connect with people even when they move or change jobs so it's a great way to make connections and to keep them.

Oh, and I'm not closing down this blog.

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Review: Sage Beginner’s Guide

Sage Beginner's Guide is a book from Packt Publishing that aims to help new users to break the ice and get comfortable and productive with Sage. Sage is an open-source Math software system that combines a large number of packages into a Python interface. Disclaimer: I am much more familiar with the commercial Math software system, Mathematica, which I blog about at Playing With Mathematica. I have dabbled with Sage but don't have enough experience with it to compare it to Mathematica. But, I'm curious enough about Sage that, when the publisher offered me a review copy, I accepted.

The Sage site has links to a number of types of documentation and support. You need to decide whether what's available for free meets your needs. Among other things, there's a tutorial, an installation guide, a book for newbies, and lots more, free for clicking and downloading.

Why might you want to buy a copy of the Sage Beginner's Guide? There are a number of reasons.

  1. The Guide combines a number of types of documentation into a single book. There's an overview chapter, an installation chapter, information helpful for getting your bearings, an introduction to Python, how-to's on plotting, information on symbolic and numerical computation, plus some advanced information on doing more with Sage, Python, LaTeX interactive applications and more. You can view the entire table of contents here.


A deeper understanding of Rubik’s cube

From MITnews:

The math of the Rubik’s cube

New research establishes the relationship between the number of squares in a Rubik’s-cube-type puzzle and the maximum number of moves required to solve it.

Erik Demaine, an associate professor of computer science and engineering at MIT; his father, Martin Demaine, a visiting scientist at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory; graduate student Sarah Eisenstat; Anna Lubiw, who was Demaine’s PhD thesis adviser at the University of Waterloo; and Tufts graduate student Andrew Winslow showed that the maximum number of moves required to solve a Rubik’s cube with N squares per row is proportional to N^2/log N. “That that’s the answer, and not N^2, is a surprising thing,” Demaine says.

Hat tip to John Cook.

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Math is purest :)

From: xkcd. Hat tip to Colt at No Starch Press.

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Review: The Manga Guide to Relativity

I have a confession to make. I've never liked Physics a whole lot. As an undergrad at Stanford I had to take a number of basic Physics classes. Much of what we had to do was to apply formulas to compute the masses of tiny objects or to compute tiny forces. The way Physics was taught frustrated me because I developed no grounding in the subject. I could be off by many orders of magnitude and not have a clue. Was the mass of that tiny thing 10^-20 grams or 10^-30 grams? Beats me. My Math education on the other hand was much better, especially before my college years. I developed an intuitive ability to manipulate symbols and to work with abstract concepts which I never developed in Physics.

When the nice folks at No Starch Press offered me a review copy of The Manga Guide to Relativity (Manga Guide Series) I was reluctant to accept it. I won't review books I don't like although I'm certainly willing to report issues with books I do generally like.

I like Manga books. I've reviewed the Manga Guide to Calculus and the Manga Guide to Statistics. I love the idea of turning difficult and detailed ideas into a story. I recently reviewed Keith Devlin's new book, Mathematics Education for a New Era: Video games as a Medium for Learning. In that book I learned the importance of creating an environment that engages students in learning. Video games, if they're designed with the right principles, can do that in the context of computers. Manga books, in my judgment, create an excellent space for learning on the printed page.