Category Archives: In the News

How to Fall in Love with Math


Manil Suri, a mathematics professor at the University of Maryland, had a great op-ed in the New York Times this past weekend called How to Fall in Love with Math. Suri argues that even those of us without advanced knowledge of math can appreciate its power and beauty. He writes:

Despite what most people suppose, many profound mathematical ideas don’t require advanced skills to appreciate. One can develop a fairly good understanding of the power and elegance of calculus, say, without actually being able to use it to solve scientific or engineering problems.

Think of it this way: you can appreciate art without acquiring the ability to paint, or enjoy a symphony without being able to read music. Math also deserves to be enjoyed for its own sake, without being constantly subjected to the question, “When will I use this?”

I highly recommend heading over to read the whole piece.

Math: What is it good for?

A new school year has begun, and soon I will have a new group of after-school math club students. At the first session, I always like to just talk to the kids about why math is important, in terms of future careers, as well as, in everyday life. After all, few are going to grow up to be mathematicians, so why do they need all this math anyway?

I start by asking them to think of ways they or the grown-ups in their family use math:

  • Dividing something to share,
  • Dealing with money – shopping, tipping, budgeting
  • Art and craft projects (measuring, buying the right amount of supplies),
  • Home improvement projects,
  • Time management

Next, we think about some of the careers that use math:

  • Scientists and engineers
  • Computer programmers
  • Medical professionals (doctors, nurses, technicians),
  • Designers
  • Contractors and landscapers
  • Bankers, accountants, and other finance professionals
  • Anyone who owns a business – budgets and accounting

This year, I plan to also show them how math is important in lots of fields and shows up often in scientific articles. Here are just a few recent headlines:

In the past, I have finished off the lesson, by showing this video about designing the Mars Curiosity Lander. Lots of math and WAY COOL!

This year, I plan to show this great video about why math is cool and interesting and important for many kinds of careers.

Girls Want a Rematch

Researchers at BYU found that while boys tend to do better in the first round of math competitions, girls do just as well or better than the boys in subsequent rounds. Maybe girls just need a little more time to get warmed up and comfortable. Most school math competitions consist of one round, but this study was based on the results at 24 elementary schools that changed the format of their math competitions to 5 rounds.

Read more at ScienceDaily: Gender Gap Disappears in School Math Competitions

Paul Erdös

erdosYesterday would have been Paul Erdös’s 100th birthday. (It’s pronounced air-dish). Not only was Erdös an extremely prolific mathematician (he published over 1,500 papers), he was a fascinating and somewhat eccentric man. For the last few years of his life, he did not have a home; he travelled around and stayed with collaborators while working with them. He was a terrible houseguest, but his hosts were so honored to be working with him that they didn’t mind. Mathematicians sometimes refer to their Erdös number (sort of like a Kevin Bacon number for math). If you co-authored a paper with Erdös, you have an Erdös number of 1. If you co-authored a paper with someone who co-authored a paper with Erdös, you have an Erdös number of 2, and so on.

To learn more about this amazing man, I refer you to a Scientific American article, a segment from Radiolab, and a book (which the Scientific American and Radiolab stories use as the primary source).

Scientific American: An Arbitrary Number of Years Since Mathematician Paul Erdös’s Birth

Radiolab: From Benford to Erdös

Paul Hoffman: The Man Who Loved Only Numbers: The Story of Paul Erdös and the Search for Mathematical Truth

Pre-School Number Sense Important for Later Math Success

IMG_0217A couple of studies from University of Missouri shed new light on the importance of counting and number sense in early childhood to later math success.

In one study, data from more than 3,000 children from low-income households were analyzed. The researchers found that students who could count to 20 in preschool had the highest math scores in first grade. Read more at ScienceDaily: Preschooler’s Counting Abilities Relate to Future Math Performance, Researcher Says

In another study, researchers tested 180 kids and found that the ones struggling with number sense in first grade were the same ones who were having trouble in math seventh grade. Number sense is defined as “an intuitive understanding of numbers, their magnitude, relationships, and how they are affected by operations.” So in addition to reciting numbers in order, children need to understand what those numbers mean and how they relate to one another. Read more at Early number sense plays role in later math skills

February 21st is Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day

Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day is devoted to teaching girls about the field of engineering, a field traditionally dominated by men. This event aims to address one of the causes of this gender disparity, a lack of familiarity with the field.

For more information, resources, and hands-on activities for K-12 kids, go the Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day webpage.

Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day, 2013, is dedicated to the memory of Dr. Sally Ride.  Dr. Ride was America‘s first woman in space and founder of Sally Ride Science, a company devoted to promoting K-12 science education.