The Joy of Mathematics

Prof Arthur Benjamin: The Joy of MathematicsThat the mysteries of mathematics can put a smile on your face may seem far-fetched to some. It is not, however, a strange idea to  Professor Arthur T. Benjamin of Harvey Mudd College. He loves mathematics and is certainly the most enthusiastic mathematics teacher I have ever seen in action. I purchased “The Joy of Mathematics” for a family member, but ended up sitting down to watch the lectures with the gift recipient. I don’t recall ever seeing a maths teacher with so much energy and eagerness to share what he knows. If you are not terrified by numbers (and even if they do scare you a little), you are ready for the magic of mathematics presented in a way only a passionate and down-to-earth mathematician can do it.

The Joy of Mathematics” consists of 24 half-hour lectures that celebrate the sheer joy of mathematics. The lectures are taught by a mathematician who is also a magician, with numbers and the odd rabbit in the hat. Professor Benjamin is renowned for his feats of mental calculation performed before audiences at schools, theaters, museums, and conferences. Yes, you will be in awe of him as you watch him process numbers at speeds that will make you dizzy. But unlike many other magicians, the professor isn’t selfish with his mathematical magic tricks. In this course, Professor Benjamin lets you in on some of the secrets of his wizardry. You may be astounded to learn how easy it is to perform some calculations you once thought would need more than your pocket calculator. By the end of the course, you may decide your new bag of tricks has turned you into something of a minor maths wizard yourself.

Who can benefit from this course? This course is a great refresher course for those who have lost touch with their high school mathematics training and want to feel more comfortable around numbers. It’s also a great warm-up to college entry-level mathematics, and precursor to advanced algebra and basic calculus. For those high school students who feel threatened by mathematics, time spent working through the examples given during the lectures will deepen understanding and boost confidence. Even if you have a degree in mathematics, this course is sure to work out your mental muscles in a way that is both enjoyable and enlightening.

While the complexity of the material presented is not beyond the abilities of average high school students in beginner algebra courses, be warned that at times Professor Benjamin’s enthusiasm causes him to accelerate. If he starts presenting new concepts too quickly, don’t be afraid to reach for the remote and rewind… over and over again, until you feel comfortable enough to move on.  In fact, Professor Benjamin is well aware that his audience is not a university class and will remind you to use your remote from time to time. Take his advice to get the most out of these lectures. Take each lecture at your own pace. Repeat each lecture a few times to let the explanations sink in. I also recommend keeping a pen and the notes that accompany the DVDs handy. Add your own personal notes to those provided with the lectures. You will learn a lot during each short lecture, and personal notes will help you reflect better on what you have learned before you start a new topic. Don’t move on to a new lecture until you feel like you “got it”, or at least got most of it. If you progress too quickly without understanding and internalizing the material, the more advanced lectures may be lost on you.

The Joy of Mathematics” is currently available from The Great Courses, a company that strives to make high quality teaching and the skills of university professors accessible to the general public. (Photo credit: Richard Faverty)


Graphing Can Be Fun

Desmos Free Graphing CalculatorIf mathematical graphs are generally not your cup of tea, perhaps you should try a cup of coffee instead? How about a cup of coffee that is sketched from a collection of equations your students might recognize? That’s not quite your textbook flavor of graphing mathematics, is it?

Desmos offers a remarkable and FREE online graphing calculator that allows you to visualize mathematical equations quickly and easily. Imagine turning equations into images everyone can identify and associate with? According to Desmos, “learning is a process of exploration and discovery, not a series of answers”.  The students who explore tend to be the students who learn, and they have fun doing it. The creators of this extraordinary online calculator believe that “everyone can learn and enjoy math, given the right environment.” The website creates just that environment. Using the available tools. you can upload your own graphs so they are displayed on the screen. The option to change colours aids students in relating the mathematical equations to what they see on the screen.

Why not make your next lesson about graphs an exercise in discovery learning for your homeschooled child or classroom students? If you believe that “math is beautiful and surprisingly fun”, you will enjoy playing with the free online graphing calculator that Desmos has made available. Give it a try and let me know how you experienced the calculator.