Month: April 2011

Total 14 Posts

Mathematics v. MTV

H. Wells Wulsin:

Mathematics educators now vie with a multitude of digital entertainment options to capture adolescents’ interest. To compete more aggressively for students’ attention, mathematics software should adopt the very strategies that have made these other media so successful.

Wulsin offers four recommendations:

  • Presenting examples in high-resolution video. “Video lets students watch the sweat beading on the athlete’s temples, see the whoosh of wind in the skydiver’s hair, hear the rev of the daredevil’s motorcycle. A photograph or cartoon cannot beat video in its fidelity and power to captivate.”
  • Connecting to students’ interests. “Monitoring a breeding bunny population would show the process of exponential growth. Baseball batting averages could introduce percentages.”
  • Showing appealing faces. “These videos could occasionally feature famous sports or entertainment figures. What if Michael Phelps calculated the volume of an Olympic swimming pool or Beyoncé computed the time delay needed for speakers at an outdoor concert? Why not let Danica Patrick figure the monthly payment on an auto loan?”
  • Holding students’ attention. “Make students laugh through physical comedy or corny one-liners. Introduce them to interesting people with magnetic personalities.”

This is a decidedly mixed bag of tricks. The first two of those recommendations are superficially useful but wrong on substance. The other two recommendations suggest students are like small animals – either raccoons, easily engrossed by pretty shiny things, or puppies who can be counted on to swallow a vitamin if it’s packed inside a lump of peanut butter. Both students and educators of students ought to be offended.

And then he misses one of the biggest reasons why MTV is more appealing to students than math:


Without narrative, all of Wulsin’s efforts are doomed. If Wulsin’s mathematical task lacks a compelling, clear premise in its first act, obstacles, conflict, and tension for your classroom heroes to resolve in its second act, and a cathartic resolution in its third act that leads naturally and necessarily to more mathematics in its sequel, he’s screwed. I don’t care if he recruits LeBron James to tell knock-knock jokes in hi-def about the area of a basketball court, his students won’t care.


2011 Apr 19: Updated to add a direct link to the article. (Thanks, Coquejj.)

2011 Apr 19: Wells Wulsin responds in the comments.

The Mathematics Of Game Shows

Judging from his slides, it looks like Bowen Kerins produced a corker of a presentation at NCTM last week, running through the math inherent to game shows across several genres and decades. Among other revelations, he’ll help you calculate the best location for dropping your Plinko puck.

2011 April 19. Dave likes the problem:

In the past, I’ve definitely understood the idea of compelling WCYDWT problems, and been drawn to know the solution. This was almost on a new level. There was nothing as important in my life as solving the Plinko board, right now. It’s like math crack.

[WCYDWT] The Daily Show

The Daily Show gave us a twofer last night. Neither one of these is any kind of lengthy inquiry. They’re interesting examples of math used to make sense of political debate (in one case) and distort it (in the other).

In the first case, you have this exchange:

Romney: Across the nation, over twenty millions Americans still can’t find a job or have given up looking. In 1985 I helped found a company. At first we had 10 employees. Today there are hundreds.

Stewart: You created hundreds of jobs in just twenty-six years? At that rate you’ll have the whole country employed in – hold on – 4,000,000 years.

In the second case you have Stewart pretty well embarrassing himself with this wacky scaling:

Both clips would have stalled out at “interesting” but I censored out their interest – bleeping out Stewart’s (obv. imprecise) calculation of “4,000,000 years” in the first; blurring out the 2.9% in the second – making them perplexing instead.

The Goods [Romney]

Download the full archive [10.6 MB], including:

  • Question Video
  • Answer Video

The Goods [Health Care]

Download the full archive [15.3 MB], including:

  • Question Video
  • Question Photo
  • Answer Video

Many thanks to my flinty-eyed reader Joshua Schmidt for making sure I didn’t miss last night’s episode.

2011 April 16: As of this writing, Bain Capital has 375 employees, which is completely germane to the problem. Huge ups to Emily’s resourcefulness.

What Was Meant For Evil

Dina Strasser attempts to turn Rebecca Black’s nightmarish debut music video into a learning experience for her ELA students:

Since the layers of ridiculousness in this tune are near impenetrable, you have to be exceptionally focused and intentional in how this song is presented, or you’ll be at it for the whole period or longer. […] Our purpose, I tell them, is to use figurative language to determine why this is the worst song on the planet.

How To Steal Like An Artist (And 9 Other Things Nobody Told Me)

Austin Kleon, in the middle of an amazing presentation on creativity, work, and the Internet:

6. The secret: do good work and put it where people can see it.

If there was a secret formula for getting an audience, or gaining a following, I would give it to you. But there’s only one not-so-secret formula that I know: “Do good work and put it where people can see it.”

It’s a two step process.

Step one, “do good work,” is incredibly hard. There are no shortcuts. Make stuff every day. Fail. Get better.

Step two, “put it where people can see it,” was really hard up until about 10 years ago. Now, it’s very simple: “put your stuff on the internet.”

I tell people this, and then they ask me, “What’s the secret of the internet?”

Step 1: Wonder at something. Step 2: Invite others to wonder with you.