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Math is one of those things – it seems like you get it or you don’t. For some people, math problems might as well be Greek or gibberish – it doesn’t make any sense to them. For others, it comes as easy as second nature. In my own family, I have one son to whom math is the easiest thing ever- answers roll off his tongue with little or no effort and two others for whom the word “math” is considered a four-letter word and strikes their hearts with fear.
Apparently, this dichotomy is not just affecting my family, it is like a huge crater separating the math wizards from the math fearful. Steven Strogatz, a Cornell applied mathematics professor, is putting together a series of articles about math for the everyday person, from pre-school to grad school. HIs goal is to make math more understandable to people so they can understand why the people who get math – get it and many of us just don’t, try as hard as we might.
His first installment and the article explaining the concept, entitled From Fish to Infinity can be found here.
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- Take a Second Shot at Understanding Math (lifehacker.com)
- Math for non-experts (kottke.org)
- Steven Strogatz Writes About the Elements of Mathematics (downes.ca)
My oldest son, 14, has an interest in engineering and is constantly asking what he can do with the math he loves and comes so easily to him. I am always looking to show him how to put his math skills to work and possibly make a career out of something he enjoys. Recently a group of engineering students at UVM designed a thermal eraser for blind people. This eraser, meant to work with a tactile drawing pad permits blind people to erase what was written or drawn on the pad. The tactile drawing pad is similar to the lift and erase pads that we all used at one point or another as children. Prior to this development, people using the tactile pad had no way of correcting what they wrote or drew, short of starting over from scratch since unlike the drawing erase pad we used as children, the tactile pad images are permanently fixed in place. These pads create a raised bubbles that can be felt by a visually impaired person with their fingers, allowing them to draw and write, tasks which are difficult if not impossible for visually challenged individuals. Engineering students in the UVM SEED Program (Senior Experience in Engineering Design) designed a thermal device which in essence erases the bubbles as the person guides the eraser along, permitting the individual to correct or alter his or her work. The students presented and demonstrated the device at the National Federal for the Blind’s convention in Detroit. The project and the students were enthusiastically received. Congratulations to the students and professors who oversaw their work. Excellent use of those math skills!