Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Help Me, Captain Ned!

Future Math Superheros

"I've always been bad at math." I hear this all of the time. Students, teachers, principals, parents--no one seems to be immune to the 'bad at math' disease. No one would think about telling an English teacher that they were 'bad at reading' or anything similar. It has almost become a badge of honor to be 'bad at math.'

It is undoubtedly true that some people take to mathematics with more ease than others. The same is true in sports, music, writing, science, and any other thing that people do. I'll let you in on a secret--you can be good at math. The first step is to stop believing that it is impossible.

The fact that so many of us have surrendered our ability to understand numbers to a near-religious belief that we were born lacking in some way is unfortunate for all of us. Mathematics plays a huge role in our understanding of everything around us. On a more practical level, people use numbers to lie to you everyday--and it works because most of us have decided that we are 'bad at math.'

If you are reading this, you probably decided that you want to get better at understanding mathematics. Short term fixes or tricks won't help you much in the long run (although they may get you through the next quiz). It is really important that you try to see how everything that you know about math already fits together. I promise, it does. You understand, in an intuitive way, much more than you probably give yourself credit for.

My theories on learning are very simple. Almost every person whom I've met from around the world knew how to ride a bike by the time that they were a teenager. For many of us, it is a much younger age. Can you still remember what it was like to learn? It was probably scary and shaky. How many of you gave up after the first try and said "i'm bad at bikes" for the rest of your life? You wouldn't have dreamed of giving up, because you wanted needed to know how to ride that bike. You needed it badly. And you did it. Today, most of you can probably even do a few tricks on your bike that seemed impossible before you started.

Desire is the only thing that separates learning how to ride a bike from learning mathematics. Learning to ride a bike has many obvious reasons for being more desirable than learning math in the short term. But, if you could somehow see into the future, and realize all that you are giving up on understanding and being able to do  by not learning mathematics well, you'd probably desire it much more.

We can get you there, but you have to want to go.

My goal in creating this blog is to point you in the right direction for getting the help that you need. In the left sidebar, you will see a list of topics. Choose the topic that best fits your question and a list of posts on that area of math will appear. Check out a few different sites. Everyone presents information in a different way; you never know what will work best for you.

I also need help from you! I'm just getting the help blog started, so I need information on places to find great help that is also FREE. Information should be free, don't you agree? Just email me a link or tell me about what method has worked for you. You can also leave comments under a post if you liked the site, or if you found a problem with it. Besides adding new sites, we will also remove sites that aren't so useful anymore.

It's a project worthy of a superhero that we can accomplish if we all work together. Junior Captains, let's get to it!

Your friend,
Captain Ned


Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Pythagoras, Hippasus, and the Cost of Truth

"It's a stormy day on the sea off the coast of Greece. The date is around 520 BC. Fighting for his life, a man is heaved over the side of a boat and dropped into the open water to die. His name is Hippasus of Metapontum. His crime? Telling the world a mathematical secret. The secret of the dangerous ratio."

Read more on:

Check out Myriam Kieffer's beautiful work on her deviantART page! 


Great Things That You Can Do With A Stick

"What great things could I do with a stick?" The other day a good friend asked me this question. At first I was at a complete loss. It had been years since i'd done anything even remotely worthwhile with a stick. Then I remembered the time that we used a stick to get a visitor to leave.

I used google to help me to find a more appropriate answer. Soon I was explaining to my friend how he could measure the circumference of the earth with just a stick (and a fair bit of walking or googling distances).

Here is the story of Eratosthenes. Someone who truly did something great with a stick.

"Many attempts were made by ancient mathematicians to measure the circumference of the earth. These mathematicians had mixed success. Eratosthenes attempt was, however, quite successful, both from the point of view of accuracy and simplicity. Eratosthenes' estimate was only 245 miles off the accurate value of 24,907, an error of less than 1%."

Read more on: Life is a Story Problem

This photo is a reenactment of the best thing that i've managed to do with a stick. Taken in Nederland, CO sometime around May 1995.

An Infinite Number of Possibilities

Infinity Symbol
To keep from going insane, most of us have made up some way of classifying infinity in our minds. For me, the first thing that comes to mind is a lot. Well, that isn't very helpful if you are trying to explain the idea to someone.

How many even numbers are there? There are an infinite number of even numbers.
How many odd numbers are there? An infinite number.
So, what if I add one odd number to the infinite number of even numbers? Now there is infinity + 1? Would infinity + 2 have a greater value than infinity + 1?

This article from Platonic Realms is a great place to start if you aren't satisfied with the idea that infinity is just a lot.

The History of Numbers (7 minute version)

A quick history of numbers for those of you who need to know how number systems developed, but only have a few minutes to devote to the task!