Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Math in the Media: The importance of Recreational Math?

Math as a plaything is something most mathematicians take for granted.  It is one of the main reasons we choose to study math as a discipline:  Many of us "played" a lot when we were kids.  We marveled at logic puzzles, looked for patterns and clues in complicated word problems, played tricks with the double meanings of words and phrases and generally devoured games that rewarded the player when one can uncover the proper strategy.  Martin Gardner was a wonder at finding the mathematics hidden in playful puzzles and tricky games.  His "Mathematical Games" series in Scientific American, something on the order of 300 columns from 1956 to 1986, is a true treasure trove of beautiful, yet playful mathematics.

Now, Manil Suri, a professor in the Mathematics Department of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, writes in the New York Times of this importance of the recreational side of mathematics, especially at the primary and secondary levels, citing Gardner's work.  The piece is
The Importance of Recreational Math
It's a worthy topic to illuminate.  Do take a look....

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Viral Math....

So....  Have you figured out Cheryl's birthday yet? 

It's funny how so few people regard this puzzle as real math (as opposed to calculating a derivative or something.)  In my mind, THIS is real math;  taking a complicated situation, digging out and exposing the logical skeletal structure underlying it, studying that structure and abusing it to say something conclusive about the situation.  Problem solving, in a nutshell, is mathematics.  Or perhaps real math is learning how to synthesize and generalize the logical structure so that it can be used again in other puzzles, or situations. 

Either way....  This is real math. 

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Math in the Media: The Best jobs of 2015?

I keep telling you....  Math pays!! 

In the Business section of the online newspaper The Huffington Post sits an article by Jennie Che detailing the Best Jobs of 2015, a report prepared each year by CareerCast, ranking the top 200 jobs by work environment, income, stress and hiring outlook. 

And lo and behold, mathematics permeates most of the list, with the actual job of Mathematician, sitting at number 3 (Actuarial Scientist tops the list, with Statistics sitting at number 4).  The HuffPost article

These Are The 10 Best Jobs Of 2015

is a summary of the longer article posted directly in the CareerCast website:

The Best Jobs of 2015

(always go to the source, right?)   Personally, I've held position both in academia and in industry (NASA Goddard and Lincoln Laboratory, as well as in a private tech firm.)  All were great work environments, with interesting people, work conditions, and colleagues.  I certainly cannot argue with the conclusion that math is a great field to play in.

Give the article a read!  It's good stuff.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Math in the Media: NFL Mathematician??

I am often asked what kinds of careers can a mathematician construct for themselves.  There are many answers to this question, and in full generality, the list is long and very diverse.  However, I recently found a new one:  Professional American football player!!  

It seems that our very own John Urschel, a guard of the Baltimore Ravens ("our very own" because we are here in Baltimore after all), is a mathematician whose recent paper "A Cascadic Multigrid Algorithm for Computing the Fielder Vector of Graph Laplacians” has been accepted for publication in the Journal of Computational Mathematics.  Mr. Urschel received his Masters Degree in Mathematics from Penn State and was drafted by the Ravens last year.

One can find mathematicians in the oddest of places, no?  One just has to look carefully....

...although in this case, it is not hard to see.  Mr. Urschel's is on Twitter.  His name??


Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Math in the Media: Gender Bias in Teachers?

Yes, it does take a village to raise a child....  (H/T to The Honorable Hillary Rodham Clinton.)  But it seems it also takes a village to discourage girls from achieving their full potential in math and math-related fields....  (Sigh!)

In a new study, headed by Edith Sand, an economist at the Bank of Israel and an instructor at the Tel-Aviv University’s Berglas School of Economics, teachers themselves contribute to the problem of too many female students shying away from higher-level math courses as they progress in their education.  The study found a gender bias in performance evaluation;  Teachers who knew the identities of their students tended to grade girls more harshly and boys less so on exams than teachers who did not have any information about the students.   Unconscious or not, our influence as teachers on students always goes far beyond the content of our lectures and exercises.  But this influence may not always be constructive.  What care we need to always take....

The article, reported by Linda Carroll for Today, is  here:
Teacher Bias May Help Discourage Girls from Math, Study Finds
The study is published by the National Bureau of Economic Research in Cambridge, Mass.

Depressing...?  Yes.  Hopeful?  Also.  Knowing of an unconscious bias can contribute to its cure, eh? 

Remember School House Rock?  "Knowledge is Power"

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Math in the Media: Homer vs. Pierre?

I just had the pleasure of watching a neat 8 minute video detailing some of the mathematics injected in to the Simpsons animations.  Apparently, there are mathematicians among the creative staff who cannot help themselves throwing in a little math humor into the background every so often. 

The video, listed here on YouTube by Numberphile is titled

Homer Simpson vs Pierre de Fermat

 Do give it a watch.  It is always good to know where the subliminal messages about how cool math really is are lurking, no?

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

What is Mathematics? Passages....

So I was asked during the break between the semesters to take part in an Intersession course designed to bridge the void between the sciences and the humanities (mind the gap!) by having professors from all stripes discuss common topics to a diverse audience.  The idea is that each professor sees the topic from the perspective of their chosen field and the same topic often looks quite different to different people.  It is a wonderful idea hatched and developed by Dr. Kristin Cook-Gailloud, the Director of the Program in French Language and Culture here at Hopkins.  This is the second year running this course and I thoroughly endorse it.  Alas, due to scheduling issues, I did not participate this year.  But a topic in this year's course, Passages, stuck in my head.  The idea of movement from one state to another is something innate to a mathematician, if regarded as movement from a state of ignorance and confusion to clarity and enlightenment. 

So I wrote an essay to clarify my idea of passage in mathematics.  It is here:

Passages in Mathematics

Enjoy and do let me know what you think....

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Math in the Media: Stereotype Threat?

How often we are in Mathematics faced with the fact that our profession was, and still is, quite female-starved;  that boys and men are thought to be better at math than girls and women (an amazingly ridiculous thought, given my view up here!).  So many recent studies seem to point decidedly at the dangerous effects of a person's perceptions of ability at the moment of evaluation and how easily they can affect performance.  For example, reminding students of a stereotype they conform to just before taking a math test tends to degrade performance.  This slow drip of research exposing the damaging effects of culture bias and preconceptions on lack of ability can only have a good effect in the long run.  And I do see here at Hopkins some light in the form of a general welcoming attitude and positive outreach to students studying higher mathematics regardless of gender.  But it does seem that this huge ship turns only very slowly.

Over at the online newspaper, the Huffington Post, Cailin O’Connor, a Professor of the Philosophy of Science at the University of California, Irvine, details some of the evidence that runs contrary to the notion of an innate gender bias in mathematical ability here:
Are Women Worse at Math?  It's Time to Stop Asking
Her take?   Perhaps it is time to stop focusing on looking for innate differences between the genders in mathematical ability and start simply addressing the cultural barriers that keep the gender balances way too tilted to one side. 

I agree, but still love seeing the rising tide of evidence condemning the idea that math is more a male thing.  Geez!