Asilomar #3: 30 Excellent Math Problems

Session Title

From Tsuruda To Sicherman: 30 Of The Best Math Problems Ever

Better Title

Math Problems That Will Make You Feel Inadequate, With Your Host, Megan Taylor!


Megan Taylor, Ph.D. student, Stanford [site]


This one played out pretty schematically. We bounced from one problem to the next like some 90-minute National Geographic special on countries in Africa. If you came with a buddy, which I did, this kind of schema was perfect. Taylor was an engaging tour guide. She put one interesting problem up after another – some modern, others ancient; some canonical, others something her 7th-grade math teacher conjured up. She explained just enough of the set-up to establish constraints and pique our interest, and then got out of the way.

She gave very few answers to her own problems, which was confounding but effective. I closed my eyes last night and saw a broomstick broken in two places.


PowerPoint. Probably the canniest use of the software I saw all conference. Few transitions or animations, if any. Large visuals, which, from slide-to-slide changed only by degrees. An arrow drawn here. A square filled in there, changes which were so subtle I’m positive that 90% of the crowd forgot she was using PowerPoint, which, for my money, oughtta be the goal of anyone using PowerPoint.


Slide printouts, offering us ample room to work on problems. I have no idea how Will Richardson expects this kind of engagement using digital media. LaTeX? Maybe if we re-titled the session “One Of The Best Math Problems Of All Time [And One More If We Have Time].”


  • Thanks, Rich! She pulled out the truncated tetrahedron activity at one point, which was really easy if, uh, you knew the solution in advanceWhat do you do in that situation, where you know the answer to a difficult problem, and don’t want to look like that know-it-all kid who knows that the only country in the world that starts with an “o” is “Oman.” I have no idea..
  • Forgot to snap a photo at this session so instead you get Asilomar’s State Beach. Gorgeous. Where did you say you do professional development, again?
I'm Dan and this is my blog. I'm a former high school math teacher and current head of teaching at Desmos. He / him. More here.