History of Numeration Systems

I just stumbled upon this great little video about Ancient Numeration Systems.  It does not go into depth on any particular system, but it wanders through the following:

  • Tally marks
  • Sumerian symbols
  • Babylonian symbols
  • Egyptian symbols
  • Roman symbols and modifications of it
  • Number systems based on the body (Zulu)
  • Commerce-based number systems (Yoruba in Nigeria)
  • Number systems involving knots and string (Persians, Incans)
  • Numerals 0-9 (invented in India)
  • Place value
  • Fractions as a solution for “fair-share” situations in culture
  • Unit Fractions (Egyptians)
  • Fractions with base-60 (Sumerians and Babylonians), still used for time measurements today
  • Abacus (Chinese)
  • Use of the “bar notation” in modern-day fractions
  • Computation by the double-half method (Russian)
  • Computation by a doubling procedure (Egyptian)
  • Computation by an abacus (Europe and Asia), the “handheld calculator of its day”
  • Introduction of Arabic Numerals in Europe
  • Importance of mental math algorithms to check for reasonableness

This would be a great introduction video to a unit that involves Numeration Systems.

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Math about the Electoral College

This was a surprisingly good video about the math of the U.S. Electoral College system.  At first I kept saying “but wait a minute…” but all my concerns were addressed in the video, and then some.  I was surprised by the revelation (towards the end of the video) that it is theoretically possible (although not likely) to win the seat of President of the United States with less than 23% of the popular vote.  Wow.

There is some great math of ratios and percents here.  You can find data and other pertinent information about the Electoral College here.

You might also enjoy playing the Redistricting Game with your students, where you can “recast” who wins an election based on how you draw the boundaries on a map.

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Teaching Math with Technology (Discussion Panel)

While I was at Wolfram Alpha Homework Day, I participated in a Panel Discussion about the Myths about Teaching with Technology. The panel ran 30 minutes and was mediated by Elizabeth Corcoran. There were three of us (all women, weirdly enough), Debra Woods, a mathematics professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; Abby Brown, a math teacher at Torrey Pines High School; and myself.

I no longer remembered anything that I said in this panel, so it was fun to watch the discussion from an outside point-of-view. I am glad to see that I talked about the value of play during the discussion, because I am finding more and more that introducing play (and exploration) back into learning makes a big difference in engagement and in retention of the subject.

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Math Videos at the Sputnik Observatory


The Sputnik Observatory, is dedicated to providing a venue for viewing and sharing ideas and philosophies of contemporary culture.  Jonathan Harris, who worked on the mindblowing sociological website We Feel Fine, is the site director and blog creator for Sputnik Observatory.  Sputnik also has a host of codirectors with diverse backgrounds in journalism, architecture, and ballet.  Members of Sputnik have spent the last ten years interviewing scientists, philosophers, academics, and the like.  They have over 200 videos of conversations on themes such as coherence, interspecies communication, and urban metabolism.

Sputnik Observatory is a New York not-for-profit educational organization dedicated to the study of contemporary culture. We fulfill this mission by documenting, archiving, and disseminating ideas that are shaping modern thought by interviewing leading thinkers in the arts, sciences and technology from around the world. Our philosophy is that ideas are NOT selfish, ideas are NOT viruses. Ideas survive because they fit in with the rest of life. Our position is that ideas are energy, and should interconnect and re-connect continuously because by linking ideas together we learn, and new ideas emerge.”

Here are some of the short interviews that involve mathematics (and all really COOL mathematics).  All of these can be embedded into course shells.

Will Wright – Possibility Space

Ian Stewart – Alien Mathematics

Ian Stewart – Pattern-Seeking Minds

Lord Martin Rees – Simple Recipe

Trevor Paglen – Geologic Agents

Jacques Vallee – Information Universe

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Puzzle Broadcasts on the Math Factor

Is anyone in the mood for a good math puzzle?  The Math Factor is a well-established resource of just that.  University of Arkansas professor, Chaim Goodman-Strauss and radio journalist, Kyle Kellams, have been broadcasting weekly math-puzzle  segments since 2004 on Kellams’ show Ozarks at Large.  The Math Factor website is a steadily-growing archive of their work.  Goodman-Strauss, together with Edmund Harriss , Stephen Morris, and Jeff Yoak, provide the content (which contains works from Lewis Carroll, among others).  Several older puzzle posts include podcasts of Goodman-Strauss, and other contributors, explaining the answers on Kellams’ show.  There are also links for comments if you would like to post a response to a puzzle.


Also available:

  • a poster in case you’d like to help advertise!
  • The Math Factor on Twitter  (username: @Mathfactor or hashtag #mathfactor)
  • Goodman-Strass’ graphics page


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