Tag 3d geometry

My talk at the 2018 Williams College math camp

[had to write this in a hurry before the family headed off for a vacation – sorry that this post is likely a little sloppy]

Yesterday I gave a talk at a math camp for high school students at Williams College. The camp is run by Williams College math professor Allison Pacelli and has about 20 student.

The topic for my talk was the hypercube. In the 90 min talk, I hoped to share some amazing ideas I learned from Kelsey Houston-Edwards and Federico Ardila and then just see where things went.

A short list of background material for the talk (in roughly the order in the talk is):

(1) A discussion of how to count vertices, edges, faces, and etc in cubes of various dimensions

This is a project I did with my kids a few years ago, and I think helps break the ice a little bit for students who are (rightfully!) confused about what the 4th dimension might even mean:

Counting geometric properties in 4 and 6 dimensionsf

(2) With that introduction I had the students build regular cubes out of the Zometool set I brought. Then I gave them some yellow struts and asked them to construct what they thought a hypercube might look like. From the prior discussion they knew how many points and lines to expect.

To my super happy surprise, the students built two different representations. I had my boys talk about the two different representations this morning. Funny enough, they had difference preferences for which was the “best” representation:

Here’s what my older son had to say:

Here’s what my younger son had to say:

At the end of this section of my talk I showed the students “Hypercube B” from Bathsheba Grossman (as well as my Zometool version):

(3) Now we moved on to looking at cubes in a different way -> standing on a corner rather than laying flat

I learned about this amazing way to view a cube from this amazing video from Kelsey Houston-Edwards. One of the many bits of incredible math in this video is the connection between Pascal’s triangle and cubes.

Here are the two projects I did with my kids a after seeing Houston-Edwards’s video:

Kelsey Houston-Edwards’s hypercube video is incredible

One more look at the hypercube

After challenging the kids to think about what the “slices” of the 3- and 4-dimensional cubes standing on their corners would be, I showed them the 3D printed versions I prepared for the talk:

Here are the 2d slices of the 3d cube:

Here are the 3d slices of the 4d cube:

(4) Finally, we looked at the connection between cubes and combinatorics

I learned about this connection from this amazing video from Numberphile and Federico Ardila:

Here is the project I did with my older son after seeing Ardila’s video:

Federico Ardila’s Combinatorics and Higher Dimensions video is incredible!

I walked the students through how the vertices of a square correspond to the subsets of a 2-element set and then asked them to show how the vertices of a cube correspond to the subsets of a 3-element set.

There were a lot of oohs and ahhs as the students saw the elements of Pascal’s triangle emerge again.

Then I asked the students to find the correspondence between the 4-d cubes they’d made and subsets of a 4-elements set. I was incredibly happy to hear three different explanations from the students about how this correspondence worked – I actually wish these explanations were on video because I think Ardila would have absolutely loved to hear them.

(5) One last note

If you find all these properties of 4-D cubes as neat as I do, Jim Propp has a fantastic essay about 4 dimensional cubes:

Jim Propp’s essay Time and Tesseracts

By lucky coincidence, this essay was published as I was trying to think about how to structure my talk and was the final little push I needed to put all the ideas together.

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15 (+1 bonus) Math ideas for a 6th grade math camp

Saw an interesting tweet last week and I’ve been thinking about pretty much constantly for the last few days:

I had a few thoughts initially – which I’ll repeat in this post – but I’ve had a bunch of others since. Below I’ll share 10 ideas that require very few materials – say scissors, paper, and maybe snap cubes – and then 5 more that require a but more – things like a computer or a Zometool set.

The first 4 are the ones I shared in response to the original tweet:

(1) Fawn Nguyen’s take on the picture frame problem

This is one of the most absolutely brilliant math projects for kids that I’ve ever seen:

When I got them to beg

Here’s how I went through it with my younger son a few years ago:

(2) James Tanton’s Mobius strip cutting exerciese

This is a really fun take on this famous scissors and paper cutting exercise:

You will honestly not believe what you are seeing when you go through Tanton’s version:

Here’s the link to our project:

James Tanton’s incredible mobius strop cutting project

(3) Martin Gardner’s hexapawn “machine learning” exercise

Screen Shot 2017-09-03 at 10.07.08 AM

For this exercise the students will play a simple game called “hexapawn” and a machine consisting of beads in boxes will “learn” to beat them. It is a super fun game and somewhat amazing that an introductory machine learning exercise could have been designed so long ago!

Intro “machine learning” for kids via Martin Gardner’s article on hexapawn

(4) Katie Steckles’ “Fold and Cut” video

This video is a must see and it was a big hit with elementary school kids when I used it for “Family Math” night:

Here are our projects – all you need is scissors and paper.

Our One Cut Project

Fold and cut project #2

Fold and cut part 3

(5) Along the same lines – Joel David Hamkins’s version of “Fold and Punch”

I found this activity in one of the old “Family Math” night boxes:

Joel David Hamkins saw my tweet and created an incredible activity for kids.ย  Here’s a link to that project on his blog:

Joel David Hamkins’s fold, punch and cut for symmetry!

(6) Kelsey Houston-Edwards’s “5 Unusual Proofs” video

Just one of many amazing math outreach videos that Kelsey Houston-Edwards put together during her time at PBS Infinite Series:

Here is how I used the project with my kids:

Kelsey Houston-Edwards’s “Proof” video is incredible

(7) Sharing the surreal numbers with kids via Jim Propp’s checker stacks game

Screen Shot 2018-03-24 at 7.52.55 PM

Jim Propp published a terrific essay on the surreal numbers in 2015:

Jim Propp’s “Life of Games”

In the essay he uses the game “checker stacks” to help explain / illustrate the surreal numbers. That essay got me thinking about how to share the surreal numbers with kids. We explored the surreal numbers in 4 different projects and I used the game for an hour long activity with 4th and 5th graders at Family Math night at my son’s elementary school.

This project takes a little bit of prep work just to make sure you understand the game, but it is all worth it when you see the kids arguing about checker stacks with value “infinity” and “infinity plus 1” ๐Ÿ™‚

Here is a summary blog post linking to all of our surreal number projects:

Sharing the Surreal Numbers with kids

(8) Larry Guth’s “No Rectangle” problem

I learned about this problem when I attended a public lecture Larry Guth gave at MIT.ย  Here’s my initial introduction of the problem to my kids:

I’ve used this project with a large group of kids a few times (once with 2nd and 3rd graders and it caused us to run 10 min long because they wouldn’t stop arguing about the problem!). It is really fun to watch them learn about the problem on a 3×3 grid and then see if they can prove the result. Then you move to a 4×4 grid, and then a 5×5 and, well, that’s probably enough for 80 min ๐Ÿ™‚

Larry Guth’s “No Rectangles” problem

(9) The “Monty Hall Problem”

This is a famous problem, that equally famously generates incredibly strong opinions from anyone thinking about it. These days I only discuss the problem in larger group settings to try to avoid arguments.

Here’s the problem:

There are prizes behind each of 3 doors. 1 door hides a good prize and 2 of the doors hide consolation prizes. You select a door at random. After that selection one of the doors that you didn’t select will be opened to reveal a consolation prize. At that point you will be given the opportunity to switch your initial selection to the door that was not opened. The question isย  -> does switching increase, decrease, or leave your chance of winning unchanged?

One fun idea I tried with the boys was exploring the problem using clear glasses to “hide” the prizes, so that they could see the difference between the switching strategy and the non-switching strategy:

Here’s our full project:

Exploring the Monty Hall problem with kids

(10) Using the educational material from Moon Duchin’s math and gerrymandering conference with kids

Moon Duchin has spent the last few years working to educate large groups of people – mathematicians, politicians, lawyers, and more – about math and gerrymandering.ย  . Some of the ideas in the educational materials the math and gerrymandering group has created are accessible to 6th graders.

Screen Shot 2018-01-14 at 9.08.06 AM

Here’s our project using these math and gerrymandering educational materials:

Sharing some ideas about math and gerrymandering with kids

(11) This is a computer activity -> Intro machine learning with Google’s Tensorflow playground.

This might be a nice companion project to go along with the Martin Gardner project above. This is how I introduced the boys to the Tensorflow Playground site (other important ideas came ahead of this video, so it doesn’t stand alone):

Our complete project is here:

Sharing basic machine learning ideas with kids

(12) Computer math and the Chaos game

The 90 seconds starting at 2:00 is one of my all time favorite moments sharing math with my kids:

The whole project is here, but the essence of it is in the above video:

Computer math and the chaos game

(13) Another computer project -> Finding e by throwing darts at a chess board

This is a neat introductory probability project for kids. I learned about it from this tweet:

You don’t need a computer to do this project, but you do need a way to pick 64 random numbers. Having a little computer help will make it easier to repeat the project a few times (or have more than one group work with different numbers).

Here’s how I introduced the project to my kids:

Here’s the full project:

Finding e by throwing darts

(14) Looking at shapes you can make with bubbles

For this project you need bubble solution and some way to make wire frames. We’ve had a lot of success making the frames from our Zometool set, but if you click through the bubble projects we’ve done, you’ll see some wire frames with actual wires.

Here’s an example of how one of these bubble projects goes:

And here’s a listing of a bunch of bubble projects we’ve done:

Our bubble projects

(15) Our project inspired by Ann-Marie Ison’s math art:

This tweet from Ann-Marie Ison caught my eye:

Then Martin Holtham created a fantastic Desmos activity to help explore the ideas:

It is fun to just play with, but if you want to see how I approached the ideas with my kids, here are our projects:

Using Ann-Marie Ison’s incredible math art with kids

Extending our project with Ann-Marie Ison’s art

(16) Bonus project!!A dodecahedron folding into a cube

This is a an incredible idea from 3d geometry.

We studied it using our Zometool set – that’s not the only way to go, but it might be the easiest:

dodecahedron fold

Here’s the full project:

Can you believe that a dodecahedron folds into a cube?

A terrific probability problem for kids shared by Alexander Bogomolny

Saw this tweet from Alexander Bogomolny yesterday and knew immediately what today’s project was going to be ๐Ÿ™‚

The problem is, I think, accessible to kids without much need for additional explanation, so I just dove right in this morning to see how things would go.

My first question to them was to come up with a few thoughts about the problem and some possible strategies that you might need to solve it. They had some good intuition:

Next we attempted to use some of the ideas from the last video to begin to study the problem. Pretty quickly they saw that the initial strategy they chose got complicated, and a more direct approach wasn’t actually all that complicated:

I intended to have them solve the 4x4x4 problem with one of our Rubik’s cubes as a prop, but we could only find our 5x5x5 cube. So, we skipped the 4x4x4 case, solved the 5x5x5 case and then jumped to the NxNxN case:

Finally, I wanted the boys to see the “slick” solution to this problem – which is really cool. You’ll hear my younger son say “that’s neat” if you listen carefully ๐Ÿ™‚

Definitely a fun problem – would be really neat to share this one with a room foll of kids to see all of the different strategies they might try.

A terrific volume project I learned from Kathy Henderson

Yesterday afternoon I saw a really neat tweet from Kathy Henderson:

It immediately reminded me of our projects on the volume of a pyramid and a tetrahedron from a few weeks ago:

Screen Shot 2018-03-10 at 9.19.07 AM

Studying Tetrahedrons and Pyrmaids

Comparing a tetrahedron and a pyramid and experiment

We had a hard time finding the volume of the pyramid and tetrahedron by filling them with water because, despite our best efforts with tape, our shapes were not even close to water tight. They were definitely “popcorn tight” though, so we *had* to try out this activity.

Kathy was nice enough to share the handout she used, so designing today’s project was a piece of cake:

So, I had the boys make the shape’s prior to filming – we started the project with a quick discussion of the construction of the shapes. Then we talked about their volume.

My older son thought the volumes would be roughly the same. My younger son thought the one with the rectangular base would have the largest volume.

Next we tried to calculate the area of the base of each prism. Rather than using graph paper as the handout suggested, we found the area of each base by measuring. That gave us a chance for a little arithmetic and geometry practice, too.

Next we went to the kitchen scale to measure the change in weight when we filled the shapes with popcorn kernels. We found *very roughly* the relationship we were expecting, which was nice!

Finally, we revisited the pyramid and the tetrahedron project and looked at the two different volumes using popcorn. We found the ratio of the volumes was roughly 1.96 rather than the 1.7 to 1.8 ratio we found using water.

This is such a great project and I’m super happy that Kathy Henderson shared it yesterday. Working through the project you get to play with ideas from arithmetic and geometry. With a larger group you probably also get to discuss why everyone (presumably) found slightly different volumes.

So, a fun project that was relatively easy to implement. What a great start to the weekend ๐Ÿ™‚

A simplified version of the Banach-Tarski paradox for kids

Yesterday we were listening to Patrick Honner’s appearance on the My Favorite Theorem podcast. Honner was discussing Varignonโ€™s Theorem. We actually have discussed this appearance before, but the kids hadn’t listened to the podcast, yet:

Sharing Patrick Honner’s My Favorite Theorem appearance with kids

After listening to the podcast I asked my older son what his favorite theorem was:

However, after giving up on the idea initially (!) I looked at the Wikipedia page for the Banach-Tarski paradox and found an idea that I thought might work. Here’s the page:

Wikipedia’s page on the Banach-Tarski paradox

The idea was to share the first step in the proof – exploring the Cayley graph of F_2 – with kids. Here’s the picture from Wikipedia:

Screen Shot 2018-03-18 at 8.26.06 AM

So, here’s what I did.

First I introduced the boys to some basic ideas about a free group on two generators. I used a Rubik’s cube to both demonstrate the ideas and to show why a Rubik’s cube didn’t quite work for a perfect demonstration (I know that part of the video drags on a bit, but stay with it – there is a nice surprise):

Next we talked about the free group with two generators in more detail. My younger son accidentally came up with a fantastic example that helped clarify how this free group worked.

Then there was a bit of a surprise misconception that I only uncovered by accident. That led to another important clarification.

So, completely by accident, we had a great conversation here.

In the last video they boys thought you could use the “letters” x, x^{-1}, y, y^{-1} only once. In the beginning of this video I clarified the rules.

Next we began to talk about the representation of our free group by the Cayley graph from Wikipedia pictured above. I was really fun to hear how the boys described what they saw in this graph.

Finally, we looked at two different ways to break the Cayley graph into pieces. This video is a little long, but it has a simplified version of the main idea in the Banach-Tarski paradox.

The first decomposition of the Cayley graph is into 5 pieces -> the identity element, words that start with a, words that start with a^{-1}, words that start with b, and words that start with b^{-1}. This decomposition is pretty easy to see in the picture.

The second – and very surprising decomposition is as follows:

The combination of (i) the words that start with a and (ii) a multiplying (on the left) all the words that start with a^{-1} gives the entire set. The same is true for the combination of (i) the words that start with b and (ii) b multiplying (on the left) all the words that start with b^{-1}

Although the words describing this decomposition might not make sense right away, you’ll see that the boys had a few questions about what was going on and eventually were able to see how this second decomposition worked.

And this second decomposition gives a huge surprise -> we’ve taken 4 subsets, combined them in pairs and created two exact copies of the original set. Ta da ๐Ÿ™‚

This project is an incredibly fun one to share with kids. I’m pretty surprised that *any* ideas related to the Banach-Tarski paradox are accessible to kids, but the simple ideas about the Cayley graph of F_2 really are. Using those ideas you can show the main idea behind the sphere paradox without having to dive all the way into rotation groups which I think are a little more abstract and harder to understand.

Anyway, this one was a blast!

Comparing a tetrahedron and a pyramid with theory and experiment

We’ve done a few projects on pyramids and tetrahedrons recently thanks to ideas from Alexander Bogomolny and Patrick Honner. Those projects are collected here:

Studying Tetrahedrons and Pyrmaids

One bit that remained open from the prior projects was sort of a visual curiosity. When you hold the zome Tetrahedron and zome Pyramid in your hand, it doesn’t look at all like the pyramid has twice the volume. Today’s project was an attempt to dive in a bit more into this puzzle.

We started by reviewing the ideas that Alexander Bogomolny and Patrick Honner shared:

Next we reviewed the geometric ideas that lead you to the fact that the volume of the square pyramid is double the volume of the tetrahedron.

Now we moved to the experiment phase – we put packing tape around the tetrahedron and the pyramid and filled them with water (as best we could). We then dumped that water into a bowl and used a scale to measure the amount of water. Our initial experiment led us to conclude that there was roughly 1.8 times as much water in the pyramid.

After that we repeated each of the measurements to get a total of 5 measurements of the volume of water in each of the shapes. Here are the results:

Definitely a fun project. I wish that we’d have gotten measurements that were closer to the correct volume relationship, but it is always nice to see that experiments don’t always match the theory!

Sharing “developable surfaces” with kids thanks to a brilliant lecture from Heather Macbeth

[This is a redo of a blog post from January 2018 that somehow ended up 1/2 deleted. Not sure what I did to that old post, but I didn’t want to lose the ideas.]

In January 2018 I attended a terrific public lecture given by Heather Macbeth at MIT. The general topic was differential geometry, and the specific topic she discussed was “developable surfaces.”

Here’s an example from the talk:

I also printed a few examples and shared them with the boys the next day:

Here’s what my older son had to say about the shapes:

Here’s what my younger son thought:

These are really neat surfaces to explore. If you look at some of the mathematical ideas for “Developable surfaces” you’ll find that some of the surfaces are actually pretty easy to code, print, and share with kids!

Sharing Matt Zucker’s Shadertoy program with kids

Saw an amazing tweet from Matt Zucker yesterday:

My older son is on a school trip this weekend, so this project is just with my younger son (in 6th grade). I thought he’d had a lot of fun playing around with the program, so I let him explore it (with no instruction or even explanation) for about 10 min and then asked him what he thought was neat:

At the end of the last video he was playing around with the different numbers. I didn’t want to go into what those numbers represented, but I did think it would be great to hear some of his ideas and conjectures.

He found some ideas that seemed to work and a few that didn’t – so that was great to hear. By the end we’d found a shape that we could make from our Zometool set.

To finish this morning’s project we built the shape – here’s are his thoughts about having the shape in front of him vs seeing it on a computer screen:

This was a super fun project. I think it might be a nice challenge to try to dive a little deeper into the general Wythoff constructions that the Matt Zucker’s program is designed to explore. For now though, even with any details, the program is really fantastic for kids to play with.

Studying Tetrahedrons and Pyrmaids

[had to write this in more of a hurry than usual as 30 min of my morning was spent fishing for a dropped retainer that fell through a gap in our bathroom floor . . . . so sorry for the quite write up, but this project is a really fun way to get to hear a younger kid think about 3d geometry]

There were two really nice math ideas shard on twitter this week and I had no idea that they were related.

The first was a famous problem shared by Alexander Bogomolny:

I did a fun Zometool project with my younger son using the problem:

Zome

That project is here:

Alexander Bogomolny shared one of my all time favorite problems this morning

Then came Patrick Honner’s appearance on the My Favorite Theorem podcast:

I shared some of the ideas from the podcast and subsequent twitter follow up with my older son:

Tet

Sharing Patrick Honner’s My Favorite Theorem appearance with kids

Today – with just my younger son – I looked at a surprising connection between these two projects. We started by reviewing the Pyramid / Tetrahedron problem and then trying to guess the relationship between the volume of the two shapes.

Sorry that the lighting is so awful in these videos – unfortunately I only noticed after we were done.

Next I showed him the larger Tetrahedron with the inscribed octahedron. Although the main point of today’s project wasn’t Varignon’s theorem, I explained the theorem and asked my son to find some of the inscribed squares.

This connection was pointed out by Graeme McRae in this tweet:

At the end of the last video my son was starting to think about how volume scales. Since that’s an important point for this project I wanted to have all of those thoughts in one video.

It is interesting to hear how he tries to reconcile his mathematical thoughts about the volume of the two shapes with what he sees right in front of him.

Finally, we wrapped up by trying to find the relationship between the volume of the small tetrahedron and the volume of the pyramid.

I’m happy that my son is not convinced that the mathematical scaling arguments are correct. I can also say that holding these two objects in your hand it really does not look like the pyramid has twice the volume. Can’t wait to follow up on this.

Sharing Patrick Honner’s My Favorite Theorem appearance with kids

Patrick Honner was a terrific guest on the My Favorite Theorem blog today:

We’d done a blog post – inspired by Patrick Honner, obviously – about Varignon’s Theorem previously – Varignon’s Theorem – inspired by this tweet:

After listening to today’s My Favorite Theorem episode I wanted to do a follow up project – probably this weekend – but then I saw a really neat tweet just as I finished listening:

Well . . . I had to build that from our Zometool set and ended up finding a fun surprise, too. I shared the surprise shape with my older son tonight and here’s what he had to say:

What a fun day! If you are interested in a terrific (and light!) podcast about math – definitely subscribe to My Favorite Theorem.