Fawn Nguyen’s incredible Euclidean Algorithm project

Fawn Nguyen recently published an incredible blog post about a project related to the Euclidean Algorithm that she did with her students:

Fawn Nguyen’s “Euclid’s Algorithm

Fawn’s projects are usually very easy to do right out of the box, and this one is especially easy since you can just start with her pictures. So, we just dove in.

You’ll see from the comments my kids had that Fawn really has made using this blog post effortless:

Next I asked them to make their own shapes. They built the shapes off camera and then we talked about them.

At the end I asked them when they thought a shape would require 1x1x1 cubes.

After hearing their thoughts about relatively prime numbers at the end of the last video I asked them to make a shape that wouldn’t require 1x1x1 cubes to finish. Here’s what they made and why they thought it would work:

Such a fun project. Fawn’s work is so amazing. I love using her posts with my kids.

A fun calculus problem for kids – playing with derivatives and absolute value

I’ve been doing a few “calculus for kids” projects after seeing Grant Sanderson’s essence of calculus series. The series made me see that some of the high level ideas are completely accessible to kids and it has been fun to explore some of those concepts.

Today I thought it would be fun to see what they thought the derivative of absolute value would look like – they had some neat ideas:

Next I thought I would turn the problem around – what if absolute value was the derivative! What would the function look like. This problem was much more challenging. In the first video they spent most of the time just getting their head around the problem:

So, now that they had the ideas in place to solve the problem, they started drawing pictures. The process of getting to the correct graph was really interesting to watch:

The more I think about this calculus project, the more fun I think it is going to be. Many of the ideas in Sanderson’s series will be out of their reach, but some of the high level concepts are incredibly fun to share with kids.

More calculus ideas for kids inspired by Grant Sanderson

I’m enjoying thinking about how to share Grant Sanderon’s latest calculus video series with kids. My goal is not remotely to develop a calculus course, but just to give kids an opportunity to see and explore some of the basic ideas that Sanderson shares in his video series. At a high level, things like slope of the graph of a function are easily accessible to kids even if the calculations required to make the ideas precise might be beyond them. Our projects so far are here:

Sharing Grant Sanderson’s Calculus ideas video with kids

Sharing Grant Sanderson’s “derivative paradox” video with kids is really fun

Sharing Grant Sanderson’s derivative paradox video with kids part 2

Sharing Grant Sanderson’s “derivatives through geometry” video with kids

So, walking the dog tonight I came up with two ideas for discussion:

(i) How does the length of the hypotenuse of a right triangle change as the length of one of the sides changes?

(ii) If a function has the property that the slope of the tangent line is the same as the value of the function, what would that function look like?

We began with a quick review / discussion of slope in the context of a curve. This concept is still new to the boys and I wanted to have one quick review before we dove into the main project:

Next we moved on to the right triangle problem – how would the length of the hypotenuse change when one of the side lengths changed? The boys were able to grasp some basic ideas around when the changing side was short (near zero length) and very long (near infinite length), and we were able to make a sketch of what the derivative might look like just from these basic observations:

The next project was a basic (the most basic?) differential equation -> a function has the property that the derivative at a point is equal to the value of the function at that point. The value of the function at 0 is 1. What does this function look like?

Finally, we went up to the computer to use Mathematica to explore our two questions. For purposes of this higher level conceptual overview, it is nice that Mathematica’s built in functions allow us to study these two questions without having to do the calculations ourselves:

The more of these project I do, the more I’m convinced that this is a useful exercise for kids. For now at least, I can’t think of any reason why learning about these basic ideas at the same time you are learning about functions will cause problems.

My week with “juggling roots”

A tweet last week from John Baez made for a really fun week of playing around. I’ve written several blog posts about it already. Here’s the summary to date, I guess:

(1) The original tweet:

(2) The blog posts:

Sharing John Baez’s “juggling roots” tweet with kids

Sharing John Baez’s “juggling roots” post with kids part 2

Today I got one step closer to a long-term goal

(3) A video from a comment on one of the posts from Allen Knutson that helped me understand what was going on a bit better:

So, with that as background, what follows are some final (for now at least) thoughts on what I learned this week. One thing for sure is that I got to see some absolutely beautiful math:

Dan Anderson made some pretty neat 3d prints, too:

For this blog post I’m going to focus on the 5th degree polynomial x^5 - 16x + 2. I picked this polynomial because it is an example (from Mike Artin’s Algebra book) of a polynomial with roots that cannot be solved.

So, what do all these posts about “juggling roots” mean anyway?

Hopefully a picture will be worth 1,000 words:

What we are going to do with our polynomial x^5 - 16x + 2 is vary the coefficients and see how the roots change. In particular, all of my examples below vary one coefficient in a circle in the complex plane. So, as the picture above indicates, we’ll look at all of the polynomials x^5 - 16x + A where A moves around a circle with radius 8 centered at 10 + 0 I in the complex plane. So, one of our polynomials will be x^5 - 16x + 2, another will be x^5 - 16x + (10 - 8i), another will be x^5 - 16x + 18, and so on.

The question is this -> how do the roots of these polynomials change as we move around the circle? You would certainly expect that you’ll get the same roots at the start of the trip around the circle and at the end – after all, you’ve got the same polynomial! There’s a fun little surprise, though. Here’s the video for this specific example showing two loops around the circle:

The surprise is that even though you get the same roots by looping around the circle, with only one loop around the circle two of the roots seem to have switched places!

Here’s another example I found yesterday and used for a 3d print. Again for this one I’m varying the “2” coefficient. In this case the circle has a radius of 102:

When I viewed this video today, I realized that it wasn’t clear if 3 or 4 roots were changing places in one loop around the circle. It is 4 – here is a zoom in on the part that is tricky to see:

Next up is changing the “-16” in the x coefficient in our polynomial. Here the loop in the complex plane is a circle of radius 26:

Finally, there’s nothing special about the coefficients that are 0, so I decided to see what would happen when I vary the coefficient of the x^2 term that is initially 0. In this case I’m looping around a circle in the complex plane with radius 20 and passing through the point 0 + 0i:

So – some things I learned over this week:

(1) That the roots of a polynomial can somehow switch places with each other as you vary the values of the coefficients in a loop is incredible to me.

(2) The idea of thinking of these pictures as slices of a 3-dimensional space (which I saw on John Baez’s blog) led to some of the most visually striking 3d prints that I’ve ever made. The math here is truly beautiful.

(3) I finally have a way to give high school students a peek at a quite surprising fact in math -> 5th degree polynomials have no general solution.

What a fun week this has been!

Sharing Grant Sanderson’s “derivatives through geometry” video with kids

We’ve done a few projects inspired by Grant Sanderson’s incredible new calculus series:

Sharing Grant Sanderson’s Calculus ideas video with kids

Sharing Grant Sanderson’s “derivative paradox” video with kids is really fun

Sharing Grant Sanderson’s derivative paradox video with kids part 2

Today we returned to Sanderson’s series to look at his “derivatives through geometry video”:

We watched the video last night. To get started today I reminded the boys about the concepts in Sanderson’s video. The specific example we looked at was how the area of a square with side length’s X changes as the side length’s change:

Next we moved on to the first of two challenges in Sanderson’s video. In this video we tackle the function y = 1/x. How does this function change as the value of x changes?

The second challenge problem involved the function y = \sqrt{x}. The ideas here are slightly more complicated than in the prior video and my younger son wanted a more detailed explanation. I’m glad he did, though, because going though this example a little slower I think helped the general ideas sink in.

I didn’t want to have the project end with all of the algebra in the last video, so I decided to return to the two challenge functions and look at their graphs again. Did the answers we found for the derivatives match up with what we were seeing with the slope of the function in the pictures?

This new calculus series from Grant Sanderson is one of the best “math for the masses” projects that I’ve seen. He is not pitching the series at kids, but I think there are many ideas throughout the series that are accessible to kids. I have no intention of trying to teach my kids a full course in calculus, but I do think that they will find exploring a few ideas here and there to be really fun. After we finished today my younger son’s first comment was that he wanted to do more projects like this one – yay 🙂

Sharing Kelsey Houston-Edwards’s topology video with kids

Kelsey Houston-Edwards’s latest video is terrific:

This one is particularly easy to share with kids because there are several puzzles where she asks you to stop and think about the solution. I began the picture frame puzzle as the starting point for our project today.

The puzzle goes roughly like this:

A common way to hang a picture is to use two nails in a wall and run the wire around those two nails. Assuming the nails / wall are strong enough, if you remove one of the nails the picture will still hang. Is there a way to hang a picture with two nails so that if you remove either of the nails the picture will fall?

We took a shot at this puzzle using yarn and snap cubes. It was a good challenge for the boys:

In the last video we got the picture to fall once, but the boys weren’t quite clear what happened – but now they at least knew it was possible! Here we explored the idea more carefully:

Next we finished watching the video and then discussed what we saw (as I publish this post the video preview isn’t embedding properly, but is really just audio anyway):

Finally we looked at two sets of shapes that appeared in the video that we’ve looked at before. The first is a 3d print of Henry Segerman’s “Topology Joke” and the 2nd is a set of “rollers” that we’d made after seeing a Steven Strogatz tweet. The tweet and the roller project are here:

3d printing and rollers

Another fun project from Kelsey Houston-Edwards’s amazing math series. Sorry to be brief on this project, but I had to get this one out quick because of a bunch of activities going on today.

Today I got one step closer to a long-term goal

One of the math mountains that I’ve always wanted to try to climb is to find a way to explain to kids why 5th degree polynomials can’t be solved in general.

The “one step closer” came from a comment by Allen Knutson on one of our projects on John Baez’s “juggling roots” tweet. Here’s the tweet:

Here are the two recent projects that we’ve done after seeing that tweet. Knutson’s comment is at the end of the first post:

Sharing John Baez’s “juggling roots” tweet with kids

Sharing John Baez’s “juggling roots” post with kids part 2

The comment pointed me to a video that shows how the “juggling roots” approached can be used to show that there is no general formula for finding the roots of a 5th degree equation:

The neat thing about the combination of this video and Baez’s post is that you can see some of the ideas from the video in the “juggling roots” gifs in the post.

Tonight I used some of the 3d prints of the juggling roots that I’ve made in the last few days to talk about the ideas a bit more and then we watched just a few minutes of the video.

We started with with a print that I accidentally made twice – but luckily the two prints give us a way to view the juggling roots through two cycles:

Next we looked at a different print to see a different juggling roots pattern. Here I was trying to set up the idea that the roots can move around in different ways. The way those different movements interact is the key idea in the video that Allen Knutson shared.

Finally, we went upstairs to watch a little bit of the video. Sorry for the sound issues, I don’t know why I left the sound on in the video. I mainly wanted the boys to see a different view of the juggling roots and I told them that the video gave the explanation for why 5th degree polynomials can’t be solved in general:

So, although I don’t quite have a full explanation of 5th degree polynomials for kids – I feel like I took a giant step towards getting to that explanation today. It is an extra happy surprise that 3d printing is going to come into play for that explanation!

Are the “juggling roots” related to Aztec Diamond tilings?

I was working over at MIT today and brought the print I made overnight so that I could sand it after it cured:

Occasionally there’s a grad student that I chat with and he walked by today and asked what the print was. I showed him the “juggling roots” from the John Baez tweet:

Here are the two recent projects that we’ve done after seeing that tweet.

Sharing John Baez’s “juggling roots” tweet with kids

Sharing John Baez’s “juggling roots” post with kids part 2

Seeing the rotating roots, he said “Oh, that’s related to the Aztec diamond tilings.” Unfortunately he had to run to a meeting so I didn’t get to learn what the relationship was.

But . . . here’s a picture of the Aztec diamond:

Screen Shot 2016-03-02 at 7.07.20 PM

Here are a few of the projects that we’ve done on the Aztec diamond tilings:

The Arctic Circle Theorem

TA second example from tiling the Aztec diamond

It is funny the relationships you see when you know what you are looking at. I don’t see the connection, but I’m excited to learn what it is!

Sharing John Baez’s “juggling roots” post with kids part 2

Yesterday I saw this incredible tweet from John Baez:

We did one project with some of the shapes this morning:

Sharing John Baez’s “juggling roots” tweet with kids

The tweet links to a couple of blog posts which I’ll link to directly here for ease:

John Baez’s “Juggling Roots” Google+ post

Curiosa Mathematica’s ‘Animation by Two Cubes” post on Tumblr

The Original set of animations by twocubes on Tumblr

Reading a bit in the comment on Baez’s google+ post I saw a reference to the 3d shapes you could make by considering the frames in the various animations to be slices of a 3d shape. I thought it would be fun to show some of those shapes to the boys tonight and see if they could identify which animated gif generated the 3d shape.

This was an incredibly fun project – it is amazing to hear what kids have to say about these complicated (and beautiful) shapes. It is also very fun to hear them reason their way to figuring out which 3d shape corresponds to each gif.

Here are the conversations:

(1)

(2)

(3)

(4)

(5)

(6) As a lucky bonus, the 3d print finished up just as we finished the last video. I thought it would be fun for them to see and talk about that print even though (i) it broke a little bit while it was printing, and (ii) it was fresh out of the printer and still dripping plastic 🙂

The conversations that we’ve had around Baez’s post has been some of the most enjoyable conversations that I’ve had sharing really advanced math – math that is interesting to research mathematicians – with kids. o

Sharing John Baez’s “juggling roots” tweet with kids

I saw an incredible tweet from John Baez last night:

The tweet links to a couple of blog posts which I’ll link to directly here for ease:

John Baez’s “Juggling Roots” Google+ post

Curiosa Mathematica’s ‘Animation by Two Cubes” post on Tumblr

The Original set of animations by twocubes on Tumblr

So, I think the path that the animation took to our eyes was from twocubes to curiosamathematica to John Baez to us. Sorry if I do not have the sources and credit correct, but I will make corrections if someone alerts me to an error.

I’d never made any sort of animation before, but since the pictures looked like they came from Mathematica I started to play around a little bit last night to see what I could do. In doing so I learned about Mathematica’s “Animate” and “Manipulate” functions and made some progress, though the animations that I made were not nearly as good as the ones from the above posts. This Stackexchange post was helpful to me in improving the quality of my animations, but still mine aren’t in the same league as the original ones:

Why is my animation so slow?

Anyway, with that introduction, I thought it would be really fun to share these animations with kids and do a tiny bit of background explanation. I stared this morning by just showing the boys some of the pictures and asking them to describe what they were seeing:

Next I showed them one of the animations that I made and asked them to see if they could see some similarities with any of the previous animations:

Next we went down to the living room to talk about roots of equations. My older son knows a little bit about quadratic equations, but only a little bit. I didn’t want this part of the conversation to be the main point, but I did want them to get a tiny peek at the math behind the animations we were looking at today:

Finally, we went back up to the computer to look at some of the animations for quadratic and cubic equations. My maybe too open-ended task for them here was to compare the animations of the roots of quadratic and cubic equations to the animations of the roots of the quintic equations.

I’ve always wanted to be able to share some of the basic ideas from Galois theory with kids. I’ve never seen anything like these animations previously. They make for a neat starting point, I think, since kids are able to talk about the pictures. I would **love** to know what a research mathematician sees in the pictures. In particular, is there something in the pictures that gives a clue about why the roots of 5th degree polynomials are going to be more difficult to study than 2nd, 3rd, or 4th degree ones?