History of Numeration Systems

Nov 15, 2011 by

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

Nov 7, 2011 by

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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Math Videos at the Sputnik Observatory

Oct 26, 2009 by


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

Sep 11, 2009 by

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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Mathematical Coral Reefs

May 17, 2009 by

Margaret Wertheim speaks at TED about the beautiful mathematics of coral reefs, hyperbolic geometry, and more.  In particular, I liked her bit (around the 8-minute mark) where she says that if zero and one are already possible answers, then mathematicians would become immediately suspicious that infinity might be one too  (think, how many ways can two lines intersect).  She also discusses the inability to see a principle when it is right in front of your face (like the hyperbolic geometry in leafy lettuce).

Margaret Wertheim on the Beautiful Mathematics of Coral Reefs

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New Math: A Formula for Everything

Mar 30, 2009 by

I think that I will have to start (or end?) every class session next fall with one of these fabulous formulas from New Math.


Some of them are obvious (once you see them) and some of them just have me laughing out loud because of the simplistic way Craig Damrauer can depict such a complex subject. A few of my favorites:




Inspired by these great formulas, I think we should have a contest to see who can come up with the best “new math formula” for math words like Calculus, Algebra, Statistics, etc.

Take your best stab at your favorite math word, and then link here.

Here’s my contribution, and then I’m back to work on my dissertation (where all my creative energy is flowing these days).


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