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Math is more than calculation!

November 15, 2013

Arthur Benjamin, described as a mathemagician, may be a person math educators know.  Clearly, he gets around.  Benjamin advances the idea that mathematics is about calculation, application, and inspiration.  Most of us would probably not argue that mathematics is about calculation and application.  In fact, Benjamin points out that its too bad that those two characteristics are often the only ones that students leave school understanding.  When I reflect on my own math experiences from early grades through graduate school, most of which were very positive, I remember them being predominantly about the calculations.  Maybe a little bit of application, especially in chemistry.  I have very few memories about mathematics, or a math teacher, that I would identify as inspiring.

With regard to inspiration, I would guess some of us might wonder why inspiration is Benjamin’s third element of a good math experience.  I know I did.  But when I watched the magic unfold in his TED talk on Fibonacci numbers, it was clear.  He was energized, alive, and concise in telling a compelling story about why these numbers and patterns are beautiful.  Benjamin sees beauty in math.  He sees it as a gateway to understanding the beauty of patterns that exist all around us.   So maybe math educators should spend more time trying to inspire their students by showing them the beauty of math.  Math can be used to answer perplexing questions, but it can also be used to inspire us the way a good piece of art does.

On TED’s site they write: “Math is logical, functional and just … awesome.  Mathemagician Arthur Benjamin explores hidden properties of that weird and wonderful set of numbers, the Fibonacci series.”  For me, he not only explored the properties, but he illustrated in ten minutes how beautiful these numbers are and WHY we should care about them.

I think his TED video could be used to hook or engage students in the beauty of math.

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