The IntMath Newsletter - 7 May 2008

By Murray Bourne, 07 May 2008

In this Newsletter

1. Welcome to new subscribers
2. Math tips - (a) Statistics; (b) Study groups
3. Latest IntMath Poll
4. Joshua, a satisfied reader
5. From the math blog
6. The source of everything


1. Welcome to new subscribers

A lot of new people have signed up to the IntMath Newsletter recently. Welcome to all the new readers!


2. Math Tips - (a) Statistics; (b) Study groups

a. Database of Happiness: I wrote a post recently on the Database of Happiness.

There are interesting statistics in that database, but there are also a lot of things that don't add up. However, the research is presented as 'scientific'.

The lesson in this is that every time you are presented with statistics, always ask yourself:

  • What questions were used to get the information?
  • Where were the questions asked? Was it by phone, on the street, by Internet?
  • How many people were asked?
  • How valid is the research (are they asking what they think they are asking)?
  • How reliable is the research (can the exercise be repeated and get similar results)?
  • How were the numbers used and compared?
  • What was the researcher trying to prove (we all know that advertising statistics can be very misleading, and politicians are well known for twisting data to suit their own purposes)?

As Mark Twain wrote (quoting Benjamin Disraeli),

"There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics."

b. Study groups: A few years ago I taught a math class that was given a weekly homework assignment. There was one guy who was strong at mathematics and he would do all the assignment and would then pass the answers around for everyone else to copy.

The result was that each week the guy who was good at math got better and better at it and everyone else became weaker and weaker.

Of course, as soon as I realised what was going on, I put a stop to it. The students didn't understand how a study group should work and they were chasing grades, rather than improving their own skills and knowledge.

It is a good idea to form study groups, but don't fall into the trap that my students fell into.

The best way to run a study group is for everyone to go do the assignment and then meet before the due date. If some members are unsure how to do some questions, then help them by showing them how to get started (don't just let them copy the answers.)

Another way to go about it is to share out the questions and then teach each other how you did your question. Then everyone goes off and completes the assignment using their own new knowledge and skills.

A good way to learn anything is to teach others.


3. Latest IntMath Poll

A poll on Interactive Mathematics in Mar/Apr 2008 asked readers: "How many computers are used in your math classroom?". The response from 1000 readers was:

46%  None
23%  Most students use one
22%  One
9%   Two

The results were disappointing to me. It shows that only about one half of the classrooms (of those who responded) actually have a computer in their math class room, while about 1/4 of the respondents indicated that most students use a computer in their math classroom. I suspect many of these last responses were from Singapore students, where it is perhaps more common for every student to have access to a computer.

The current poll asks about your favorite subject at school. You can vote on any page in Interactive Mathematics.

Note: I don't claim that these polls are 'scientific' in any way, but they are an interesting reflection of how my readers think or what happens in their math classes.


4. Joshua, a satisfied reader

The following comment about Interactive Mathematics came this week from Joshua, a US reader:

I just wanted to say your site is excellent. I’ve understood more about differential equations here than I did in an entire semester at university and I now feel like I stand a chance of passing the module and am motivated once more to work. Instead of bogging your explanations down with technical jargon you lay out a clear concise method with thorough answers to all examples on a clean and attractive site. Honestly can’t give you enough praise - thank you!

You are welcome Joshua, and thank you for taking the time to write. I'm glad that you've gained some benefit from the site.

Such comments make it all worthwhile. See more readers' comments.


5. From the math blog

1) Database of Happiness
Can we measure a country's level of happiness? Can we properly compare the happiness of different countries?

What does it mean to be happy, anyway?

2) Friday Math Movie - The Beamz
The Beamz is a music performance system that requires the player to break string-like laser beams. A USB connection to a computer drives the back end. Oh, and there's some nice mathematics involved.

3) Equal areas of a circle gives nice art
Here's some nice geometry. It's a way to divide a circle into equal areas, using a pair of compasses and a ruler only.

And it's not bad art, either.

4) Should math be applied?
Some research from Ohio State University concludes that we should teach mathematics without the use of 'real life' concrete examples.

I beg to differ. Do you agree with me?

5) Greek graffiti
Graffiti in Greece looks very mathematical - even rather nerdy in places.


6. The source of everything

To finish, here is a quote by Van Tharp that you might find helpful.

Look to yourself as the source of everything that happens in your life. What are the common patterns and how can you fix them? When you do this, your chances of success go up dramatically.

Good advice indeed.

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