April 19, 2014
How I Slayed The Mathematical Beast-Monster by Karla Gabruch

Egan…
Each semester, on the last day of class, I make prospective elementary school mathematics teachers hand in a Duo-Tang, which contains their weekly math homework and their weekly discussion points (one page responses based on required readings from our text). Ultimately, the Duo-Tang assignment is an ongoing collection of “work” intended to capture prospective elementary school math teachers’ thinking with respect to mathematics and mathematics education over the semester. However, before they hand in their Duo-Tangs, I give each student an opportunity to write a “cover letter” — after all, in order to sell the steak you must sell the sizzle. I’m happy to share with you (with her permission) what Karla Gabruch wrote this semester.

Karla Gabruch…
How I Slayed The Mathematical Beast-Monster
by Karla Gabruch

Math has been the bane of my existence; my kryptonite, my Dr. Octopus, my Circle Drive North.

It began at an early age, around grade three, when I was introduced to multiplication. We did timed tests, which makes little sense unless the products were needed to diffuse a nuclear bomb before it could destroy humanity. We were given big red ‘x’s’ for wrong answers, which included the questions that we did not compete. As such, I frequently failed the tests, even though the questions I did finish had the correct answers. I knew how to do it, I just wasn’t quick. Story of my life. Math began to develop little fangs and red beady eyes, but I was not yet afraid.

The teacher, in her wise and infinitely infallible wisdom, then split the class into two groups: high-functioning and low-functioning. While these terms are selected to sound perhaps kinder, children are intelligent enough to know what they really mean: smart and stupid.

When little Karla was placed in the ‘dumb’ group, she logically assumed that she wasn’t good at math. Since that thought pattern was never corrected, it became solidified. As time marched on, it became a mantra ‘I’m not good at math….I’m not good at math…..I’m not good at math’…..until finally, it became a self-fulfilling prophesy, and math became something unnaturally evil; a beast from the bowels of an unholy place.

It was then that simple Doubt morphed into crippling Anxiety and an ugly creature reared up, casting a shadow upon me. Math became a creature of darkness, a whispered word of cruelty, a bringer of shame and sadness. I began to shiver at the sight of a math textbook, and developed a phobic fear of slide rulers. Math was a curse, and I was infected with the worst of it.

It began to gnaw at my mind, consuming all rational thought. I began to have difficultly with the simplest of mathematical tasks, and was suddenly unable to do addition and subtraction in my head. When I eventually began algebra, my mind simply exploded and I was forever lost in a sea of ignorance. Up was white, black was down, hamburgers were eating people, and it seemed that I was at war for my very soul. Numbers danced through my dark dreams, fanged and deranged. Upon the backs of cruel and sharp equal signs they rode, chasing me through an infinite and moonless wood.

I fought the Pythagorean King upon the precipice of failure, and only very narrowly escaped. He was vanquished forevermore, never to be thought of by me again, but never spoken of, lest he return and smite me. Geo-Trig and Algebra became vast and unforgivable planes of existence where I fought against math and all it’s minions. The battles seemed endless, but I waged war for as long as I could stand until it was clear that I was fighting a losing battle. I retreated and relinquished my shield, choosing instead to became a shadow.

I must make the point to say, that once I stopped enjoying math, I stopped working at it. People generally and naturally avoid that which they are not proficient at, or have been convinced that they cannot do. Slowly and surely, I became a ninja, and a master of avoidance. When math appeared, I hid, deflecting it’s inquisitive shuriken with the shrewdness of my blade. I peered around corners whenever it lumbered by, willing myself to be invisible. I learned enough about Math to trick, outsmart, and sneak by it without arising it’s suspicions.. Ultimately, I became a Math-Illiterate; clever and adaptive, but still anxious and paranoid. I built fences without plans, and plumbing without measuring. I found other logical ways to solve math problems using my innate spatial ability and creativity. I enlisted people’s help for a passing grade. I once paid a classmate a box of popcorn to teach me trigonometry in an afternoon. I passed easily, but forgot the material immediately once the hoop had been jumped through. The math beast was quelled yet again.

As a result of jerry-rigging and eye-balling, I became a lazy, blithering mathematical idiot, muttering about my ineptitude and justifying my ignorance. I relished in being right-brained, artsy, creative, and a bit of a hippie. Math didn’t come natural, that was ok, I didn’t care. There were ways around it. However, when I arrived at university, I found that the beast had followed me there. It had grown to a towering size and stalked the halls, bellowing in madness and lunacy.

I was out of tricks now; there was only one right answer. I took university math courses 5 times, failing both math 110 and Stats 103 twice. I finally returned to university in 2011 after a decade off, determined to slay the Math Beast once and for all. This time around, I was determined not to be lazy in my math class and actually attend (surprising how much that helps). I needed only 3 credit units of math for my degree, and I stood at the brink, staring that dreadful beast in the eyes. I took stats 103 again, this time passing with a 67%, which I worked exceedingly hard for but still believe was generously curved.

When I got my final grade, my first thought was ‘Fudging outstanding….I will never have to take or do math ever again!’ Upon reflection, this was a terribly flawed thought, especially considering that I was planning to become a teacher. Perhaps it is more accurate that I was glad to know that I would never be tested by math again, which is actually a sad thought, considering the challenge that it gives me. Still, the beast was at last defeated, and I was the victor. ‘Go away, monster,’ I bellowed, ‘I have finally beaten you….now away with you!’

Defeated, the creature crept silently away, casting a forlorn look at me before last slipping into the Thorvaldson building to hide beneath a stairwell. That was the last that I saw of it for some time, and did not think of it again… until this year when I took this class. I went to find it recently, and upon peering into it’s hiding place, I discovered that it was not so fearsome or loathsome as I had supposed. It seemed in fact, rather sad and lonely, and not really so large, having depleted in size and ferocity. It looked at me mournfully, it’s once-gleaming eyes now baleful and sad. I couldn’t help myself; I’m a sucker for mournful. I took it home with me, and it’s been living with me ever since.

It has become a lovely companion, and is not a monster at all, actually. In fact, it is quite loveable once you give it a chance. It may not be a fluffy unicorn that shoots glitter out of every orifice (seems messy….who’d want that?!), but it isn’t a dreadful, prickly and venomous demon either. Math is precisely what we perceive it to be; nothing more, and nothing less. We make our own monsters in this world, but they are usually the sum of our greatest fears and insecurities. They are an extension of ourselves, and by that extension, we actually become our own monsters. I didn’t actually slay the Math Beast-Monster because, ultimately, there was nothing to slay.

You will see, in this duo-tang, not that I am a math whiz or ever will be, but I really did put in a lot of effort. I have no idea if my answers are correct, and many of them took me a painfully long time to do. I am someone who hated math in almost an unhealthy way, but now I have come to view it rather differently. It may never be my favourite subject, but it has now it been defanged and actually makes for quite a loveable pet and challenging companion, once you give it a chance. If anything, my experience in math has made me a more patient and understanding teacher. I hope to teach my students to not make monsters out of math, and try to foster the same appreciation for mathematics as we do for literacy.

April 17, 2014
An Axiom to Grind: Berkeley Prof's Formula for Fame is Making Math His (Steamy) Passion

Glen Martin:

Then there’s his 2010 movie, Rites of Love and Math. Written and directed by Frenkel, the short film is an homage to the Mishima film, Yukoku, or the Rite of Love and Death. In the reprise, a mathematician played by Frenkel discovers the “mathematical formula” of love, but realizes it’s so powerful it could be used for immeasurable evil. He decides he must die to keep it from falling into the wrong hands—but first he inscribes it on his lover’s body. It’s steamy stuff: Frenkel is remarkably buff for a mathematics prof, his lover is lovely indeed, and they cavort (nude) in a paroxysm of mutual lust and scrawled equations on quivering, tender flesh.

11:35pm  |   URL: http://tmblr.co/Z-RmKx1DNRw57
Filed under: frenkel
April 17, 2014

Sharing a Framework for Aboriginal Mathematics Education and What it Means for Teaching

April 16, 2014
Fix Alberta’s math curriculum or step aside, math basics advocates tell Education Minister Jeff Johnson

David Staples:

In her own speech, Dr. Nhung Tran-Davies, organizer of a pro-math basics petition, also said it was time for Johnson to make the necessary changes to the math curriculum or step aside.

"Step aside," to me, is a little over the top, but, then again, phrases like "national disaster" and "national emergency" (cf. John Manley) have also been thrown around in this conversation.

April 16, 2014
The nonsensical math behind "best jobs" rankings

Danielle Kurtzleben:

That’s because job search site CareerCast released its latest ranking of 200 jobs, from best (mathematician) to worst (lumberjack). This is just one of a handful of rankings that purport to order a wide range of jobs, requiring a wide range of talents, from worst to first. US News & World Report, for example, has its Best Jobs list it releases every year. CNN likewise ranks best jobs. The lists always get a good amount of attention — you can find out if your job is superior, because it’s scientific! — but there are some glaring weaknesses to these systems.

12:26pm  |   URL: http://tmblr.co/Z-RmKx1DDxDaR
Filed under: jobs
April 16, 2014
A Hot Goalie Isn't a Better Goalie

Neil Paine:

It’s not just goalies who are unpredictable; hockey’s stats holy war over shot quantity versus shot quality has shown us that an offense’s shooting percentage is just as inconsistent. The whole sport is especially vulnerable to random fluctuations, something that shows up most once a puck starts moving towards the net.

11:37am  |   URL: http://tmblr.co/Z-RmKx1DDj4yi
Filed under: 538 sports hockey
April 16, 2014
And the Most Desirable Job in the World Is...

Martha C. White:

With a median income of \$101,360 and a 23% projected job growth rate by 2022, mathematician topped the site’s roundup of the most desirable jobs. CareerCast points to the “exponentially growing popularity of mathematics” in everything from healthcare and technology to sports and politics.

April 15, 2014
The Fluctuating Math Errors in Americans' Tax Returns

Mona Chalabi:

Seeing as Tuesday night is the deadline for filing tax returns, and seeing as data is FiveThirtyEight’s raison d’être, I was excited to find a set of statistics titled “Math Errors on Individual Income Tax Returns, by Type of Error.” Even better, that data has been published for tax years from 2001 to 2012.

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Filed under: 538
April 15, 2014
'Math detective' analyzes odds for suspicious lottery wins

Carol Clark:

"If you’re winning like this in Las Vegas, they’re going to take you into a back room and find out how you’re cracking the game," Mower said.

But when Mower asked a Florida lottery official about what seemed like a suspicious number of repeat wins by some players he was told that they could just be lucky.

April 15, 2014
How our new math curriculum puts Alberta kids way behind the best in the world

Part 32 of David Staples’ “The Great Canadian Math Debate,” found in The Edmonton Journal, features a speech by Cornelia Bica — given at the (peaceful) back to basics rally in AB over the weekend,

April 15, 2014
New ways of teaching math don't pass the test

Michael Zwaagstra:

In Alberta, when it comes to math education, an unstoppable force has met an immovable object. On one side, we have the unstoppable Dr. Nhung Tran-Davies, backed up by thousands of equally frustrated parents.

On the other, we have the immovable education minister, Jeff Johnson, supported by dozens of curriculum consultants and faculty of education professors who have staked their careers on discovery/inquiry math.

Why set it up like a wrestling match or MMA fight?

April 15, 2014
Mindful of math

Lana Haight (starting on page 11):

“Back to math basics” is a cry that is increasingly heard across Canada as studies show students lagging behind those in many other developed countries. But focusing solely on rote drill of math facts isn’t neces- sarily the key to reversing the slide, according to University of Saskatchewan psychology professor Jamie Campbell.

[source: my university smailbox]

April 14, 2014
A Statistical Analysis of the Work of Bob Ross

Walt Hickey:

Bob Ross was a consummate teacher. He guided fans along as he painted “happy trees,” “almighty mountains” and “fluffy clouds” over the course of his 11-year television career on his PBS show, “The Joy of Painting.” In total, Ross painted 381 works on the show, relying on a distinct set of elements, scenes and themes, and thereby providing thousands of data points. I decided to use that data to teach something myself: the important statistical concepts of conditional probability and clustering, as well as a lesson on the limitations of data.

April 13, 2014
Jet Lag Cure Based on Mathematical Model

Tom Clark:

A research team, made up of scientists from University of Michigan and Yale University, has come up with a new mathematical model that could possibly do away with the ill effects of jet lag. This research has turned their new mathematical model into an iPhone application called Entrain. After a person tells the app their present location, their future destination and the type of light that a person has access to, the app will give a person a schedule of light exposure that fits the time zone that a person is going to. If a person follows the schedule given by this application, they should not feel jet lag as their body is already used to the new time zone.

9:58pm  |   URL: http://tmblr.co/Z-RmKx1C_iplK
Filed under: modeling
April 13, 2014
Why odd numbers are dodgy, evens are good, and 7 is everyone's favourite

Alex Bellos:

In other words, when asked to project non-mathematical meanings on to numbers, or to react emotionally to them, our responses are remarkably coherent. And these responses reflect numerical properties, most clearly size and divisibility by either 2 or 5.