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Archive for the ‘Geometry’ Category

Pi Day in 5 Digits

Happy Pi Day … in 5 digits!


Thanksgiving Apple, Pecan, Cherry, Caramel, Pumpkin Spice And Ch

O.K., so we all know it’s Pi Day, and we all know it’s a special Pi Day because it’s not just 3.14, it’s 3.1415 since this is the year 2015. But if you really want to get technical about it, how about adding a 5th digit, the digit 9, for 3.14159 …

How to celebrate this very special moment?

First just ask yourself how would you find .9 or 9/10 of a 24-hour day?

Well, just make a proportion:  9/10 = x/24

That gives you that x = 21.6

And that means that at 21.6 hours into this day we would be celebrating the moment of Pi Day with 5 digits. And what is that time? 21.6 hours from 12 midnight would be 9:36 pm. Where I live, that’s just about half an hour from now. So I just thought that everyone might like to know about this special moment.



Everyday Life Sparks Mathematical Puzzles

So here’s the situation: you’re at the breakfast table, enjoying a bowl of steaming-hot steel-cut oats and maple syrup, and you just poured yourself a mug of black coffee. But then you realize you want to pour some milk in the coffee (sorry, purists). But the milk is in the frig, six feet away. So of course you walk to the frig, grab the milk, bring it to the table, pour some in your coffee, return the milk to the frig and sit back down. Question: could you have done this more efficiently?

Yes, of course. You could have brought your cup of coffee with you as you walked to the frig, poured the milk right there at the frig, returned the milk, and then walked back to the table.

Being Smart?

“Morning Joe”

When I realized this this morning, I thought … hmmm. Had I used a bit of forethought, I would save myself an entire round trip from the table to the frig. And while I have no problem making that extra trip (hey, just burned 1.3 calories, right?), the experience made me wonder if anyone has ever developed a mathematics of efficiency for running errands.

I could imagine someone taking initial steps for this. One would create symbols for the various aspects of errands. There would be a general symbol for an errand, and there would be a special ways of denoting: 1) an errand station (like the frig), 2)  an errand that requires transporting an item (like carrying the mug), 3) an errand that requires doing an activity (pouring milk) with two items (mug and milk) at an errand station, 4) an errand that involves picking something up (picking up the mug), and so on. Then one could schematize the process and use it to code various kinds of errands. Eventually, perhaps, one could use such a system to analyze the most efficient way to, say, carry out 15 errands of which 3 involve transporting items, 7 involve picking things up, and 5 involve doing tasks at errand stations. Don’t get me wrong! I have not even begun to try this, but I’ve studied enough math that I can imagine it being done, and that’s one thing I love about math; it allows us to create general systems for analyzing real-world situations and thereby to do those activities more intelligently.

Of course, one reason I’m bringing this up is to encourage people to think more deeply about things that occur in their everyday lives. Activities that appear mundane can become mathematically intriguing when investigated. A wonderful example is the famous problem of the “Bridges of Konigsberg,” explored by the prolific mathematician Leonhard Euler nearly 300 years ago.

Euler in 1736 was living in the town of Konigsberg, now part of Russia. The Pregel River, which flows through Konigsberg, weaves around two islands that are part of the town, and a set of seven lovely bridges connect the islands to each other and to the town’s two river banks. For centuries Konigsberg’s residents wondered if there was a way to take a walk, starting at Point A, crossing each bridge exactly once, and return to Point A. But no one had found a way to do this.

One of the famous Seven Bridges of Konigsberg

One of the famous Seven Bridges of Konigsberg

Enter Euler. The great mathematician sat down and simplified the problem, turning the bridges into abstract line segments and transforming the bridge entrance and exits into points. Eventually Euler rigorously proved that there is no way to take the walk that people had wondered about. This would be just an interesting little tale, but it has a remarkable offshoot. After Euler published his proof, mathematicians took his way of simplifying the situation and, by exploring it, developed two new branches of math:  topology and graph theory. The graph theory ideas that Euler first explored when thinking about the seven bridges sparked a branch of math that’s used today to determine the most efficient ways of connecting servers that form the backbone of the internet!

Of course, there’s also the classic example of Archimedes shouting “Eureka!” and running through the streets naked after seeing water rise in his bathtub. In that moment, Archimedes, who had been trying to help his king figure out if the crown that was just made for him had been created with pure gold, or with an alloy, saw that the water displacement would help him solve the problem. In the end, Archimedes determined that the crown was not pure gold, and the king rewarded the great thinker for his efforts.

As I write this, I find myself wondering if any of you readers can think of other situations in which everyday life experiences led mathematicians or scientists to major discoveries. It would be enlightening to hear more of these stories.

And, if no such stories spring to mind, check out this site, which lists several such stories.

In any case, the way that such discoveries occur shows that you never know where a seemingly trivial idea might lead … so it’s good to keep your eyes and mind open.

Summertime Geometry Scavenger Hunt

Here’s a nice summer-days math project …

I just happened to be looking at the NM Highway signs page online a couple of days ago when I saw this nice little list of signs, just below:

NM Highway Signs

NM Highway Signs

I couldn’t help but notice that there are quite a few recognizable geometric figures on this page, and I thought, “This would be a cool thing to show to kids who either have studied, or are studying geometry.”

My suggestion: Show this to your children and ask them how many geometric figures they can recognize.


James Bond Math Challenge

Math in the movies … if there ever was a cool way to explore math, this has to be it. And if you missed my earlier posts on this, check them out here and here.

Math is Cool!

I was looking through the links to movies with math themes, and a question came up.

On the site showing the movies, the text says that there are “mathematical themes and patterns motivated by math” in the introduction scene for the James Bond movie, Casino Royale, this clip:

I’ve watched the clip a few times, and I have my own ideas as to mathematical themes and patterns.


Rubik’s Slide: play your way to geometric knowledge

A toy that educates … could it be a dream?

I recently found something that fits that category, educating students in concepts of GEOMETRY.

It’s called the Rubik’s Slide, created by Techno Source. I bought this Rubik’s Slide a few months ago because I needed another puzzle to keep my tutoring clients entertained while I grade their work, which I often do at the start of sessions.

Rubik's Slide Logo


Invisible Misunderstandings: Square roots of 2 and 3

Would you say that the square root of two is an important number in math? Hmmm … and would you agree that the square root of three, while perhaps not quite so important, is still a quantity whose value students should be able to estimate?

Why not, right? After all, these numbers play key roles in the 30-60-90 and 45-45-90 “special triangles.” And therefore they both appear a lot in geometry, and a great deal in trig. And on top of that, root two, widely believed to be the first irrational number discovered, shows up in a wide range of other math contexts as well.

First letter of a text about the square root o...

square root of 2 w/ "parent" triangle


Origins of the Coordinate Plane

A fly …

Who would think that a mere fly could play a major role in the history of human thought?

But when it comes to the development of Algebra, that’s the story. I’ll explain how this works just a bit later in this blog. But it is all related to what is happening now in algebra classes all around the world.

For it’s spring, that time of year again when we get out the graph paper and the ruler. Kids are working on the Cartesian coordinate plane.

One about I like about the coordinate plane is that there’s an interesting story about how it was discovered, or should I say, invented. [Hard to know the right word for an intellectual Invention like the coordinate plane.]