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IntMath Newsletter: Farewell, online math resources

By Murray Bourne, 27 Mar 2020

27 Mar 2020

In this Newsletter:

0. Fond farewell
1. Math in the news
2. Resource: ClassCalc
3. Math movie
4. Math art and code
5. Math puzzle
6. Final thought: Reset

0. Fond farewell

After much deliberation, I've decided to sell IntMath. It's been a huge part of my life for the past 23 years and I've loved every minute of developing it. However, my back, butt and legs can't take the punishment of sitting for endless hours any more, so I really need to let it go.

I'll hand over to the new owner of IntMath, Nick La Maina, to introduce himself and his company, and to give you an idea of how he intends to take IntMath to new heights.

Hey folks,

This is Nick, one of IntMath's new owners. I just wanted to say how excited we are to take IntMath to the next level. Our team has started a handful of internet companies, nearly all of which were focused around community and education, and we were incredibly impressed at the loyal following Murray has created around math. Our largest education site to date is and we look forward to taking some of those learnings and applying them to IntMath.

Many of you have used IntMath for years and may be thinking to yourself: I hope these guys don't screw up a website that I already love.

Don't worry...we don't have any major changes in mind, yet.

Our plan is to improve IntMath using this community's insights, feedback, and opinion.

And so, to kick things off, I'd love it if you could tell me why you use IntMath, and what you want us to improve.

Newsletter Re-subscribe

We will continue to send out newsletters that include math resources, games, news, and competitions. The good news is they will be very similar to what you have received in the past from Murray. You will also be the first to know of any exciting new updates and features coming to IntMath.

If you’d like to continue to receive the IntMath newsletter, please sign up here: Sign up for the new Newsletter

Please note you need to re-subscribe to receive the new IntMath newsletter. soon. If you need to reach me, please email me at [email protected].

- Nick

1. Math in the News

(a) Teaching math online

Teachers world-wide have been thrust into unfamiliar territory where they need to develop and deliver online lessons. Most of us go into teaching because we love the day-to-day interaction with students, but the relative isolation of running a class without even seeing the students can be daunting.

The key principles of effective online learning are really the same as offline - put an emphasis on the skills you want students to develop, rather than concentrating on the knowledge (facts) you want them to know. Learning facts can be boring enough in a classroom - it's even more so in an online environment. So the key thing is to design (or find) meaningful activities where students are challenged to learn by solving problems.

I mentioned the Desmos Classroom Activities recently. The idea here is students work on solving geometric challenges, but in the process gain valuable insights into important graph concepts. The approach can be applied to paper-based activities in cases where students don't have ready access to phones or computers.

A lot of students have reported how much they enjoy working through the Khan Academy lessons. They like how tracking their progress helps with motivation. Khan lessons tend to be more of the "watch a video then answer some questions on it" variety compared to Desmos' more nuanced (and thoughtful) approach, but it certainly has some good lessons.

Another thing to consider is to design activities where studens do a project making use of items or events at home, drawing out mathematics concepts from them ('real-life' math). So for example, their father may be tiling a floor (area), or mixing paint (proportions), or their little brother is using a trampoline (parabolic arcs, velocity, acceleration). Students could make short videos of their discoveries and by sharing them, everyone in the class learns.

A key thing is students won't expect the lessons to be perfect, but they will appreciate them if they are interesting, require creativity and they can realize they are making progress.

Teachers have reported difficulty making their math handwriting to be readable when conducting an online session (or making a video). One of several options to solve this is Myscript, which converts handwritten math into "real" mathematics. This Myscript webdemo shows it in action.

As an example, I just wrote this (quite ugly) expression using a mouse in their Webdemo ...


... and it happily converted it to this:


Using a stylus is of course much easier and quicker, and students will be able to see the converted math almost instantly. Myscript also plots the graph of an expression (if it recognizes it).

(b) COVID-19 exponential curve and logarithmic scales

There are currently many graphs in the media describing the pandemic. What's obvious is many politicians do not understand exponential growth and have left their responses way too late.

It's also important to be able to interpret graphs with a logarithmic axis (usually the number of cases, or number of deaths) versus a linear axis (usually time in days or weeks).

This article from New York Times gives some insight:

A Different Way to Chart the Spread of Coronavirus

COVID-19 exponential and logarithmic

(c) Correlation and causation

It's well known that the number of cases of sunburn increase with the consumption of ice cream. But does eating ice cream cause sunburn? There's always a danger that scientists conclude causation (this causes that) when in fact, the situation would be better described as correlation (two variables happen to move together in the same direction).

AI correlation causation

A team of Iraqi scientists have used AI to give a better idea on whether we have causation or correlation.

See: New AI Can Reliably Spot When Correlation Really Does Mean Causation

(d) Not a 'math person'? You may be better at learning to code than you think

learning to code

I always assumed math ability was important for coding, but this article suggests otherwise:

See: You may be better at learning to code than you think

2. Resource: ClassCalc

Hand-held calculators don't make a lot of sense if students already have smart phones (and they're allowed to bring them to school). Here's an alternative to calculators which could reduce cost.

ClassCalc is a mobile-friendly online "lockdown" calculator with the following facilities:

  1. Scientific calculator (the usual log, sin, square root, etc)
  2. Matrix operations (find inverses, multiply, etc)
  3. Graphing (appears to be similar to Desmos)

The calculator can be used in assessment situations since it disables Internet access and apps

It's worth a look.

3. Math Movie

How one woman put man on the moon

The movie Hidden Figures told the story of three female African-American mathematicians who played a key role in the US space race in the 1960s.

How one woman put man on the moon

Here's the story of another woman who contributed to that race via her brilliant use of very limited computing power.

See: How one woman put man on the moon

4. Math art and code

Here are some examples from CodePen, which is an online code editor with a helpful community.

Example Description See the code
Calculating π using raindrops One way to approximate π is to count the number of equal-sized objects randomly falling on a circle divided by those falling on a square, multiplied by 4. This animation illustrates this. Code
The Standard-agnostic Clock Most of us are used to analog clocks with 12 at the top and the hands going clockwise. What if we mess about with this? Code
SVG Turbulence Animation Beautiful and gentle SVG animations Code
Morphing animals Makes clever use of triangulation Code
Multiple Lissajous figures I love this display of multiple figures based on multiple different ratios. Drag the graphs to see way more. Code
Torus You can drag this 3D semi-transparent torus with psychedelic markings Code

5. Math puzzle

The puzzle in the last Newsletter involved calculating the distance between two poles given the length of rope joining them. Correct solutions with sufficient reasons were provided by: Thomas, Trevor, Chris, and John.

Apparently this question is given as a job interview question at Amazon. The key thing they are looking for is people who look at the big picture first (and perhaps do back of the envelope estimates) rather than those that have technical skill only and dive straight into solving it using calculus or whatever.

It's a good thing for us all to keep in mind when solving life's problems.

6. Final thought - Reset

The events overtaking the world due to the pandemic should give us all pause to think about how we'll proceed once it subsides. Being such a dramatic event, it will surely result in major new ways of thinking about things. Perhaps (and yes, I'm the eternal optimist):

  1. We'll solve a lot of energy issues by travelling less.
  2. We'll learn and work in new ways.
  3. We'll value real relationships over divisive virtual ones.
  4. We'll value expertise and facts over opinions.
  5. We'll appreciate cleaner skies, cleaner air and cleaner water, and will do what we can to keep those in place.
  6. We'll realize a circular economy is the only way forward, and that exponential economic growth in a finite world is impossible.
  7. We'll work together to address climate issues before they're thrust on all of us.
  8. We'll realize we're all one family and that looking after each other far exceeds "every man for himself" in outcomes.

Thank you for being loyal subscribers to the IntMath Newsletter and for all the positive feedback over the years.

Until we meet again, enjoy whatever you learn.

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