Great Movie for Math Students

Do yourself a favor and pop “Fermat’s Room” in your DVD player during math class.

“In this psychological thriller, 4 mathematicians are imprisoned in a shrinking room; with the walls closing in, they must try anything to escape this fatal puzzle.”

Group the students into fours, name them after the characters in the film (Galois, Hilbert, Oliva, and Pascal), and pause the DVD whenever a new puzzle is presented. Start a timer. Then watch the kids work.

Get the Enigmas from the film so you can copy and give to your students.

“Fermat’s Room” is available at Blockbuster but (sadly) not yet on Netflix.

Data Presentation

Last week, a classmate let me in on her geeky little math game: look for license plates that need operators inserted to make a math sentence (224 turns into 2+2=4, for example). It’s an interesting little game, but I like my math a little more…um, pictoral.

That probably explains why my “math in the world” fascination runs towards graphs. Below, I’ve presented some my favorite Internet people who make graphs. They’re fun. They’re eerily insightful. And sometimes they make me laugh.

5. Wordle

Because a huge number of the bloggers I read pointed to Wordle in the last few weeks, I finally dragged myself over there to see what the hub-hub was about. Here’s my Wordle representation of all the tags I use on

4. information aesthetics

What a great blog! information aesthetics gathers beautiful graphs from all over. Their content leaves me somewhere between “I never thought to track that” and “These graphs *look* so nice”. Here’s a recent photo of caffeine consumption (the arc is the length of time the caffeine stays with you).

photo from information aesthetics

Caffeine consumption from information aesthetics

3. Annual Reports

Based on the Feltron Report, this contest by math teacher Dan Meyer featured amazing infodesign from teachers and students.


xkcd makes me LOL about once a week. But there was one in particular that captured my infodesign mind.

Fruit Graph from xkcd

1. indexed

Jessica Hagy over at indexed has a lot of love for Venn Diagrams.

indexed -- my favorite source of Venn diagrams

indexed -- my favorite source of Venn diagrams

It occurs to me that reading graphs is increasingly useful (tongue planted firmly in cheek: a 21st century skill, perhaps?). Reading graphs like those above require a good dose of left and right brain input. Which might explain why in the last 5 years, increasing numbers of non-mathy people are drawing up graphs to explain some relationship or another (they’re popping up all over).

You Suck at Math

From xkcd, my favorite geeky webcomic:

And speaking of sucking in math, I dropped one math class (Modern Algebra) in my Masters program. Turns out I didn’t have a prerequisite. My remaining math, Modern Geometry, is fascinating! (Did I just say that…about a math class?!) But, here’s why: the class is small — about 15 students — and the teacher adjusts pace to our understanding.

For the record, the class is mostly women who DON’T suck at math.

Graphing Everywhere!

I’ve been developing a plan to incorporate more data analysis with my Pre-Algebra students. They’re in grades 6 and 7. As you know, when something’s on your mind, you start noticing it all around you. Which might explain how I came across two fun graphs in my RSS reader today.

First up is from Indexed by Jessica Hagy

Next up is from the xkcd webcomic:

Google results for 'died in a ______ accident.'

I’ve noticed a shift recently. More people are using graphs to show ‘data’. (Imagine I said the previous sentence and used air quotes at the end.) Why?

  • The data are entirely subjective but represented in a graph form. Indexed does a fun job with subjective graphs. Graphs like this help visual thinkers understand a statement. “As this variable increases, this other one decreases” isn’t as powerful as a curvy line on a x-y plot.
  • The data are objective but quirky. Want to know what color book is most popular on Amazon on Tuesdays? I wouldn’t be surprised to find a graph…Data warehouses and fast computers mean we can slice and dice our data to find interesting patterns.

Two other influences have me excited about graphing interesting stuff with students: Google’s Zeitgeist and the information design work on dy/dan, Dan Meyer’s blog.

My Pre-Algebra students will start this week by analyzing graphs I give them. We’ll first look at pie and stacked bar charts. The goal is to develop an ability to infer from what they see in these charts.

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Data Collecting and Modeling in Algebra

The Georgia Independent Schools Association (GISA) annual conference happened today in Atlanta. This is my first year attending the conference because this is the first year my employer has been a member.

Above: The Lovett School in Atlanta, host of the GISA Annual Conference. 

I attended a math session in the morning and presented my own talk in the afternoon.

“Data Collecting and Modeling in Algebra”, presented by Jill Gough from the Westminster Schools. I chose the topic because I saw cross-disciplinary opportunities, a good science-math match, using graphing calculators, and a topic especially for middle school (but functions for algebra in high school). I was correct.

This was a great session. Jill made me want to get a set of TI-84 Plus calculators for my class and go to town working the graphing functions. My middle school pre algebra class is just starting to use scientific calculators…which makes me think the graphing calculators are best introduced later.

Jill’s concept was to teach about linear relationships through graphs made out of ordinary data available on the internet. Let’s start with the data. Jill’s classes have (on different assignments) collected data from:

Use the temperature example. Put the data from all kids into the calculators. Set it up to plot degrees Centigrade on the X axis and degrees Farenheit on the Y. Your goal is to find the equation of that line. Let the students find the data themselves: 1 C/F pair per kid. About 10 minutes in the computer lab should be enough.

How do you get the students to find the slope of the line in a C, F graph? Guess, check, and revise works well for middle school students to learn the concept of slope. Jill also asks students to choose two well-separated points to find the equation of the line.

I’ve been teaching graphing in Excel to my pre-algebra class. While this particular presentation dwells on the use of a graphing calculator, I could implement it in Excel (ahh, the joys of “owning” the computer lab).

However, for those with graphing calculators, this is an awesome application, unmodified. I love the implications for using the graphing calculators. Sad sidenote: Jill said that in her experience the graphing calculators are rarely used in middle school science rooms.

Online Connections in Meatspace

Also at GISA, I ran into Dana Huff in the cafeteria at lunchtime. She already wrote in her blog about making online connections into real-world connections, so I won’t elaborate here other than to say I agree — here’s someone I “know” but have met only once.

Thoughtful Conference Organizers

So, I showed up in the cafeteria at the host school for today’s conference. Lunch is provided to attendees and I was prepared to hunt down a vending machine because I keep kosher.

To my pleasant surprise, there on a back table are a pile of lunches labeled kosher. I asked and was told the lunches were not reserved.

Way to go, GISA! I got to eat a meat lunch, which is incredibly rare to me.

Social Bookmarking Session

My afternoon session on social bookmarking went well. I got some great questions — my favorite was “what happens to dead links?” I found two options, which are both client downloads: fresh delicious and dead.licious. Another teacher wanted to know if did anything to weed out “bad sources” such as Wikipedia (her words, not mine). I was a little shocked by that second one. I heart Wikipedia!

Maybe next time I’ll present a session on using Wikipedia in the classroom.

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