The Evangelists

Visualizing Math – A beautifully curated museum of mathematical curiosities. Totally mesmerizing, and full of things you’ll want to show someone (or everyone). It’s run, somewhat incredibly, by two 11th-graders in Minnesota.

Vi Hart – A brilliant maker of mathematical mischief. In her playful, irreverent, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it videos, she lays out puzzles, queries, discoveries, and ingenious mathematical tricks. Addictive as heck.

Hans Rosling – Adorable, Swedish, brilliant – in short, the love of my life. His colorful presentation of statistics about world health (via Gapminder) will change the way you see the planet – and, if you’re anything like me, make you swoon. All his videos are wonderful, but this is a good one to start with.

Adventures in Teaching (Darryl Yong) – A professor goes to high school to learn about teaching math. He steers clear of hubris and easy answers, and arrives at conclusions that are deep and heartfelt (if not groundbreaking). A sobering but encouraging read.

The Lesson of Grace in Teaching (Francis Su) – A Harvey Mudd professor meditates on generosity of spirit, displays of kindness, and the notion that our human worth does not hinge on our accomplishments.

The Contrarians

A Mathematician’s Lament (by Paul Lockhart) – The single best piece of writing about math education that I’ve ever come across – scathing, vivid, and hilarious. I can’t tell if it’s the work of a merciless cynic, a hopeless idealist, or – most likely – both.

What is Mathematics For? (by Underwood Dudley) – With patient insistence, Dudley lays out a blindingly obvious fact that most of us wilfully overlook: Algebra is virtually useless in real life. And – even more obviously, and even more shockingly – that’s okay.

The Teachers

Fawn Nguyen (blog and Twitter) – Potent behind the keyboard, just as she seems to be in front of the blackboard (or SmartBoard – it’s 2013). I’m especially fond of her writing.

David Wees (blog and Twitter) – Prolific, handsomely bearded purveyor of all things related to math education.

Dan Meyer (blog and Twitter) – The social media demigod of the math education world. His TEDx talk is mandatory viewing.

Michael Pershan (blog and Twitter) – Thoughtful, always-striving NYC teacher. Runs a great blog of Math Mistakes.

Curmudgeon – Provocative, well-written, and aptly named math teaching blog. Some things I agree with, some I don’t, and lots I find interesting.

The Dreamers, the Puzzlers, and the Mischief-Makers

XKCD: What If? (Randall Munroe) – The creator of the internet’s most wildly successful webcomic tackles some fun physics questions every week.

Scale of Universe – The most fun you’ve ever had zooming in and out, in and out…

6 thoughts on “Links

  1. I just finished Paul Lockhart’s A Mathematician’s Lament and it resonated so much with me.

    I hate to say it, but music instruction isn’t necessarily in any better state. I started playing the trombone in 5th grade and played through my first year of college (9 years of instruction and practice). During that time I learned the minutia of music notation and the mechanics of playing my instrument, and I learned to play lots of pieces of music in a rote manner, but I never once received any instruction in what music really is. Basically I learned how to be an organic playback machine. Feed in sheet music, out comes sound.

    I finally realized how pointless this was when I had a humiliating experience as a freshman in college. Some friends encouraged me to go to a jam night at a local jazz club and I came along. I had played jazz in school from sheet music, but to my complete and utter disgust I found that I had no idea what to do without it. Chord progressions meant nothing to me. I had no idea how to solo. All of my training and practice had done nothing to prepare me to actually create music. I never played the trombone again.

    Years later I taught myself acoustic guitar. While doing this I stumbled across a great book called “Fretboard Logic”. Finally I understood what chords really are and how they fit together. I also learned what pentatonic scales are and what they are for (think melodies). Now I am able to play along with a song with nothing more than a chord chart. I can listen to a song for a few bars and solo with it by ear and it sounds “right”. I only play now for my own enjoyment, but it is very fulfilling.

    I am an EE so math was never a problem for me. I excelled at math because I love the intellectual challenge and find thinking about relationships fun. When I was a freshman in high school I had great fun using L’Hospital’s Rule to prove 1 = 2. Not that I knew anything about L’Hospital’s Rule at the time, I had independently discovered this while playing around with fractions.

    I am retiring now after a career in engineering. My retirement plan is to get a graduate degree and teach undergrad engineering. My favorite professor in my BSEE program always derived the equations he taught us from first principles. This has always stuck in my mind as the right way to teach any technical subject. I may not remember all of the equations I learned, but I remember how to come up with them if I need them for some reason. I hope I can do the math justice.

    1. Lockhart’s piece is really something, isn’t it?

      Just looked up Fretboard Logic on Amazon. I’ll have to try that if/when I pick up a guitar again. (Took some lessons as a kid, but it’s been years.) I’d love to approach the level you’re at, able to play around with songs and throw together chords in a way that sounds nice.

      I’d be curious to see that L’Hospital’s proof, too. L’Hospital’s is a favorite tool for calc students to overuse – it’d be great to have a cute demo of the dangers of misuse.

      Congrats on the career in engineering, and good luck with the next step. I think anybody who gets students to play with ideas is doing math a great justice. And you’re definitely right about deriving equations – one of my few hard-and-fast rules for myself as a teacher is “no unexplained formulas.”

  2. I remember people making fun of your drawings in class. Now they’ve become the expression of your passion for math. They are still injected with your quirky charm. 🙂

    Best of luck to your new job in England. I can imagine that James W. would be quite amused.

  3. Ben – I know you are in England now, but I found this on “Poetic Justice”, and since you have a lot of followers I wonder if you could put this link in your list. It is a seven year old’s testimony to a New Jersey state committee about the state of things in her school with all the testing etcetera.
    I do not blame the Common Core for this, it has been growing for years. here it is:

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