Wild About Math! Making Math fun and accessible


Lou DiGioia on largest human Pascal’s triangles and more

I recently interviewed Lou DiGioia, executive director of MATHCOUNTS, for an "Inspired by Math" podcast series. The interview was great but, unfortunately, the audio wasn't. So, I had the audio transcribed and Lou was gracious enough to edit the transcript and fill in the gaps where the audio was so inaudible that the transcriptionist couldn't even guess at the words.

So, what did Lou and I talk about?

In a nutshell, Lou answered all of my questions about MATHCOUNTS. I had always assumed that MATHCOUNTS was the organization that puts on math competitions for the brightest of the bright middle school students. I was delighted to discover that there is much much more to how MATHCOUNTS serves students.

We also talked a lot about the making of the MATHCOUNTS 2013 Guinness World Record Pascal's Triangle created by 325 humans, each holding one of the numbers in the first 25 rows of the triangle.

Read the interview and you'll understand why accomplishing this was no easy feat.

Lou also answered these questions.

  1. Do you have a story about falling in love with math as a youth?
  2. What is MATHCOUNTS? What is its history, and its mission, and who does MATHCOUNTS serve?
  3. How did you go from earning a BA and an MBA to becoming the director of MATHCOUNTS?
  4. Tell us about MATHCOUNTS competitions.
  5. Tell us about the National Math Club.
  6. Tell us about the Math Video Challenge.
  7. Tough question: How would you address the concern that some people raise that contest organizations like MATHCOUNTS mainly serve the kids who are extra bright and extra motivated?
  8. Tell us about Solve-A-Thon
  9. What do you do in a typical day?
  10. Are there some interesting new projects that you are working on?
  11. The question I ask everyone: What advice would you give to a parent whose child was struggling with math?

Here is the transcript of the interview.

About Lou DiGioia

All Rights ReservedAs executive director of MATHCOUNTS®, Lou DiGioia leads the largest nonprofit organization dedicated to extracurricular middle school mathematics. As a former Mathlete®, DiGioia is the first executive director to have participated the MATHCOUNTS Competition Series as a student. During his tenure, he led the creation of The National Math Club, which builds student enthusiasm for math by providing schools with free resources to hold afterschool math clubs; and the Math Video Challenge, an online competition that has teams create innovative teaching videos based on MATHCOUNTS problems. In 2013, he orchestrated the organization’s successful Guinness World Record attempt of the fastest time to create the first 25 rows of Pascal’s Triangle in human formation. DiGioia holds a BA from Georgetown University and an MBA from George Mason University.


[From the overview page.]

The MATHCOUNTS Foundation is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that strives to engage middle school students of all ability and interest levels in fun, challenging math programs, in order to expand their academic and professional opportunities. Middle school students exist at a critical juncture in which their love for mathematics must be nurtured, or their fear of mathematics must be overcome. MATHCOUNTS provides students with the kinds of experiences that foster growth and transcend fear to lay a foundation for future success.

For more than 30 years MATHCOUNTS has provided enriching, extracurricular opportunities to students and free, high-quality resources to educators. Every child is unique, but we believe all children are capable of seeing the beauty and joy of math, whether they come to us already passionate about math, or intimidated by it.

There are many paths to math. We work to ensure that all students discover theirs.

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Help get this film into every public middle school

My good friends, Scott and Jen, at Imagine Education have produced an educational film, The Biggest Story Problem. I had the opportunity recently to attend a private screening of the film. The documentary does an outstanding job of identifying a number of the issues that make the American math education system seriously challenged. Many of these were new to me. More importantly, this is not a "doom and gloom" film. Scott and Jen offer hope for our future and not in some abstract or hypothetical way. Scott has spent years as a classroom teacher. He's engaged students in amazing ways, through exciting and sophisticated role playing games. He and Jen have taken the powerful idea of role playing to develop Ko's Journey, a rite-of-passage math education game. (I interviewed the two for my podcast series.) These two are really onto something.

Check out this trailer for "The Biggest Story Problem."


If you feel as inspired as I do please contribute to the goal of getting a copy of the film into every public middle school in the U.S. Be part of spreading this important message. You can sponsor a school here.

You might also enjoy this Youtube video preview of Ko's Journey.

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Google adds graphing calculator to its search results

Google just announced graphing support to its search engine.

More information at the Google Search Blog.

Hat tip to my brother Abe.

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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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Avoiding the “Summer Math Slide”: tips from TI

Texas Instruments has produced a good article on how to keep kids engaged in Math over the summer break.

Help Your Teen Avoid the “Summer Math Slide”
Students Lose as Much as Two Months of Learning over the Summer

DALLAS (June 8, 2011) – Learning math is a lot like learning a sport; you have to practice to improve your skills. If you take three months off, you will get rusty. Students, especially teenagers, want a summer packed with fun, and typically academics aren’t on the list of to-dos for the summer break. But there are things every student can do over the summer (and yes, they can be fun) to prevent losing the days and days of hard work they’ve already put into math during the school year.

According to the National Association for Summer Learning, across the board, all kids lose some math skills over the summer. On average, students lose approximately two months of grade-level math skills in the summer months if they do not participate in educational activities. Additional research, provided on the National Association for Summer Learning website, states losses in math are somewhat greater than those in reading, and teachers often spend four to six weeks re-teaching material. Time lost becomes crucial as students enter more demanding math classes in middle and high school.

But teenagers, with the help of their parents, can prevent the summer math slide.

“Students do not have to lose the math skills they developed during the school year,” says Tom Reardon, a math adviser for Texas Instruments and a retired math teacher with 35 years of experience in the classroom. “Summer is the perfect time for teenagers to focus on tuning up skills, and it can be done in some fun and engaging ways.”


Three high school courses via MIT OpenCourseWare

If you've not discovered MIT's courses for high school students you owe yourself a look. There are courses in Math, science, and humanities, all available for free via the web, with course notes and homework assignments included. These courses are a small fraction of the more than 2,000 MIT OpenCourseWare classes.

Three of the courses are in Math:

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Tonight: Calculus By and For Young People

Sorry for the late notice. I just got back from vacation. The event will be recorded for future viewing.

Calculus By and For Young People

The free webinar is part of Maria Droujkova's Math 2.0 Interest Group series.

During the event, Don Cohen-The Mathman will have participants graphing things they have never done before and understand what graphing an equation or function means. He will show how to use his latest creation- A Map to Calculus, originally just a poster, but with the help of a former student Jonathan Storm, is now clickable! Each spot on the Map links to his student's work and sample problems from his books. We can also ask Don questions about his past and present work with students ages four and up, his books, and his books that were translated into Japanese and sold in Japan.

Donald Cohen has been teaching math for 56 years. He has taught in Junior HS, college, worked with Dr. Robert B. Davis for about 15 years with The Madison Project training teachers, and developed student lessons on PLATO, a computer-based program at the U of Illinois. He co-founded and taught in The Math Program, a private program, tutoring children since 1976.

More information is here.

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Math Myths

Don Cohen, AKA The Mathman, has been helping children of all ages to learn Math for 34 years. He has a CDROM book, Calculus By and For Young People, which he sells via his site.

I found these "Math Myths" from his site to be quite interesting:

  1. You can't take 7 from 3.
  2. When you multiply, the answer is bigger.
  3. You have to add from right to left.
  4. When you subtract the result is smaller.
  5. Fractions are small numbers.
  6. There's only one way to do something.
  7. When you add the result is bigger.
  8. When you divide the result is smaller.
  9. I can't do it unless someone tells me how to do it.
  10. Math is hard and only a few people can do it.
  11. You have to know everything about whole numbers before you can do fractions.
  12. You have to know algebra before you can learn about calculus.

How many of these "facts" do we take for granted, even though they're not true?

Filed under: Calculus, Education 1 Comment

“When will I use this?”

Mathalicious is a great Math resource that illustrates the very practical use of Math in real world situations. The scenarios make for great classroom or homeschool explorations.

Here are some of the topics covered:

The Biggest Loser?
What is the math of weight loss? If two people each lose 100 pounds, is that necessarily the same thing? In this lesson, we’ll use percents to explore the mathematics behind the popular game show.

Cell Phone Extravaganza
Do you have a cell phone plan? If so, do you have the right plan? In this lesson, we’ll explore the algebra behind voice and text message plans, and will figure out how to pick the cheapest one.

51-Foot Ladder
When discussing the proposed border wall between the U.S. and Mexico, then-governor Janet Napolitano remarked, “You show me a 50-foot wall, I’ll show you a 51-foot ladder.” But would this be long enough? In this lesson, we’ll use trigonometric ratios to explore everything about ladders and ladder safety.

Hat tip to Maria Droujkova.


Rhythm, Rhyme, Results: rapping about Math for Pi Day

[ Editor's Note:

Taunia from "Rhythm, Rhyme, Results" wrote to me asking if I'd blog about her education site. The site sells fun educational music and, in particular, has some Math songs in their Pi Day Collection. I wrote back letting Taunia know that I rarely plug commercial sites but I liked what her company was doing (luring students to Math with rap music) so I'd give her a plug on two conditions:

  1. She sends me a couple of sample songs so that I feel good about what I'm listening to.
  2. She writes a guest article for Wild About Math! I emphasized that the guest article should be educational in nature and not at all "salesy."

Well, I liked what I heard and here is Taunia's soapbox. ]

Greetings from Rhythm, Rhyme, Results

While researching different math blogs and sites online, we came across “Wild About Math!” and decided to say hello since our educational goals are quite similar. At educationalrap.com we strive to make math (and all academics, actually) fun and creative. And like a lot of math folks out there, we’re celebrating Pi Day on March 14th.

Rhythm, Rhyme, Results (educationalrap.com) is spread out on both US coasts. Our network of collaborators spans across the country, so we’ve come up with a workflow that works for us. We start by picking topics that are required by state assessment standards, and compare those to topics requested specifically by teachers. After researching and outlining a song topic, we then either write the lyrics ourselves or hire a lyricist. We have one artist who composes, writes lyrics, and performs, but most of the time we use a number of artists for every song.