Tag computers

Sharing Tim Gowers’s nontransitive dice talk with kids

During the week I attending a neat talk at Harvard given by Tim Gowers. The talk was about a intransitive dice. Not all of the details in the talk are accessible to kids, but many of the ideas are. After the talk I wrote down some ideas to share and sort of a sketch of a project:

Thinking about how to share Tim Gowers’s talk on intransitive dice with kids

One of the Gowers’s blog posts about intransitive dice is here if you want to see some of the original discussion of the problem:

One of Tim Gowers’s blog posts on intransitive dice

We started the project today by reviewing some basic ideas about intransitive dice. After that I explaine some of the conditions that Gowers imposed on the dice to make the ideas about intransitive dice a little easier to study:

The next thing we talked about was 4-sided dice. There are five 4-sided dice meeting Gowers’s criteria. I thought that a good initial project for kids would be finding these 5 dice.

Now that we had the five 4-sided dice, I had the kids choose some of the dice and see which one would win against the other one. This was an accessible exercise, too. Slightly unluckily they chose dice that tied each other, but it was still good to go through the task.

Now we moved to the computer. I wrote some simple code to study 4-sided through 9-sided dice. Here we looked at the 4-sided dice. Although it took a moment for the kids to understand the output of the code, once they did they began to notice a few patterns and had some new ideas about what was going on.

Having understood more what was going on with 4-sided dice, we moved on to looking at 6-sided dice. Here we began to see that it is actually pretty hard to guess ahead of time which dice are going to perform well.

Finally we looked at the output of the program for the 9-sided dice. It is pretty neat to see the distribution of outcomes.

There are definitely ideas about nontransitive dice that are accessible to kids. I would love to spend more time thinking through some of the ideas here and find more ways for kids to explore them.


3D Printing Paula Beardell Krieg’s dissected cube shapes

I’ve been thinking about exposing the boys to math through 3d printing lately. Today I decided to explore making Paula Beardell Krieg’s cube shapes with them. Here’s the exploration the boys did back in March when we first got them:

Even though we’ve played a bit with these shapes before I still thought that thinking through these yellow and pink shapes would be a fun challenge. The project turned out to be a tiny bit harder than I thought it would be, but it still was a nice conversation.

We started by first looking at the three pyramids that can come together to make a cube and continued by looking at what happens when you slice those shapes in half.

In the last video the boys were thinking about trying to describe these shapes by describing the lines that formed the edges. At the beginning of this video I told them that this particular approach was going to be tough since they didn’t know how to write equations of lines in 3 dimensions.

So, I had them continue to search for properties of the shapes that they could describe.

The boys were still struggling to find some ideas about the shape that went beyond the lines on the boundary, but we kept looking.

My older son hit on the idea that the shape was made from “stacking squares on top of each other.” We spent the rest of the video exploring that idea.

Now that we had the idea about stacking squares we went to Mathematica to try to create the shape. It took a few steps to move from the ideas about the squares to generating the code for the shape. We didn’t get all the way there during this video, but we did figure out how to make a cube.

Unfortunately I had to end the video since the camera was about to run out of memory.

While I was getting the videos off the camera the boys worked on how to change the cube shape to the pyramid shape. It was a good challenge for them and they got it. We talked about that shape for a bit and then moved on to the challenge of creating the “pink” and “yellow” shapes that Paula Beardell Krieg created from paper.

We had a little bit of extra time today and it was fun to walk through this challenging problem. I think creating shapes to 3d print is a really fun way to motivate math with kids. Can’t wait to use the printed shapes in a project tomorrow!

Sharing Kendra Lockman’s Desmos activity with my son

I saw this tweet from Kendra Lockman yesterday:

It looked like a fun activity to try, so we spent 20 minutes this morning going through it. It was nice to year what my son son thinking about fractions throughout the activity. The first 4 videos below show his work and the last is some quick thoughts from him on the morning:

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

Part 4:

Here’s his summary of the activity:

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

Last month I had the nice surprise of finding Martin Gardner’s book The Colossal Book of Mathematics at the Omaha Public Library’s book sale:

I’ve been flipping through the book and thinking about how to share some of the ideas with the boys.  Chapter 35 – “A Matchbox Game-Learning Machine” really caught my attention.  In particular, Gardner’s discussion of the game “hexapawn” inspired me to try this introductory “machine learning” idea with kids.

I had the boys read the (approximately) 2 pages on the game and the approach and then we talked through the game to make sure they understood it:

Next we started playing. We were very lucky to have a coffee table that allowed us to easily show the 24 cases and their snap cubes. This video shows the first two times through the game. I hope that it shows that playing through the game is something that is accessible to kids:

The next part shows 3 more turns of the game. My main reason for showing these three turns is so you can see some of the parts that kids find challenging. I think these parts are a big part of what makes sharing Gardner’s idea with kids so fun. The pattern matching and the general walk through the game keeps their attention while they learning about machine learning.

Next we played for a while with the camera off. After a while the kids (and the computer) learned something:

Next we played a bit more with the camera off and the before long the “computer” learned to win the game every time. Amazing!

In the last 3 min of this video the boys talk about some of the things that they learned in this project.

This is one of the most fascinating projects that we’ve ever done. It does require a bit of set up and probably a bit more careful supervision than usual to make sure that the kids don’t go down the wrong path, but wow is there a lot to learn here. I think that opening the door for kids to see how computers / machines might “learn” is an amazingly valuable lesson.

Steve Phelp’s 3d pentagon

Sorry that this post is written in a bit of a rush . . . .

I saw a neat tweet from Steve Phelps earlier in the week:

The shape sort of stuck in my mind and last night I finally got around to making two shapes inspired by Phelp’s shape. My shapes are not the same as his – one of my ideas for this project was to see if the boys could see that the shapes were not the same.

So, we started today’s project by looking at the two shapes I printed overnight. As always, it is really fun to hear kids talk about shapes that they’ve never encountered before.

Next we looked at Phelp’s tweet. The idea here was to see if the boys could see the difference between this shape and the shapes that I’d printed:

Finally, we went up to the computer so that the boys could see how I made the shapes. Other than some simple trig that the boys have not seen before, the math used to make these shapes is something that kids can understand. We define a pentagon region by 5 lines and then we vary the size of that region.

I’m not expecting the boys to understand every piece of the discussion here. Rather, my hope is that they are able to see that creating the shapes we played with today is not all that complicated and also really fun!

This was a really fun project – thanks to Steve Phelps for the tweet that inspired our work.

A short continued fraction project for kids

I woke up this morning to see another great discussion between Alexander Bogomolny and Nassim Taleb. The problem that started the discussion is here:

and the mathematical point that caught my eye was the question -> which positive integers are close to being integer multiples of \pi?

One possible approach to this question uses the idea of “continued fractions.” I learned about continued fractions from my high school math teacher, Mr. Waterman, who taught them using C. D. Olds’s book.

So, today I stared off by talking about irrational numbers and reviewing a simple proof that the square root of 2 is irrational:

Next we talked about why integer multiples of irrational numbers can never be integers. This I think is an obviously step for adults, but it took the kids a second to see the idea:

Now we moved on to talk about continued fractions. I’m not trying to go into any depth here, but rather just introduce the idea. I use my high school teacher’s procedure: split, flip, and rat 🙂

We work through a simple example with \sqrt{2} and also see that the first couple of fractions we see are good approximations to \sqrt{2}.

With that background work we went up to use Mathematica to explore different aspects of continued fractions quickly. One thing we did, in particular, was use the fractions we found to find multiples of \sqrt{2} that were nearly integers.

Finally, we wrapped up by using continued fractions to find good approximations to \pi, e and a few other numbers.

Definitely a fun project, and one that makes me especially happy because of the connection to Mr. Waterman. Hopefully the boys will want to play around with this idea a bit more tomorrow.

Playing with 4d Toys

Quick post tonight because I’m running out to dinner . . . .

I learned about the new iPad app “4D Toys” last week:

Here’s a link to their site:

The 4D Toys site

It is a nice compliment to some of the 4th dimensional projects we’ve been doing. Here’s what my younger son thought after playing around with it for a bit:

Here’s what my older son thought after playing with it for 10 min:

Excited to use this app a bit more!

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 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?

Sharing Kelsey Houston-Edwards’s Cryptography video with kids

I’m falling way behind on Kelsey Houston-Edwards’s video series, sadly. Her “How to Break Crytography” video is so freaking amazing that it needed to be first in line in my effort to catch up!

So, this morning I watched the video with the boys. We stopped the video a few times to either work through some of the math, or simply to just have me explain it a bit. Overall, though, I think this video is not just accessible to kids, but is something that they will find absolutely fascinating.

Here’s what my kids took away from it:

Next we went upstairs to write some Mathematica code to step through the process that Houston-Edwards described in her video. In this video we (slightly clumsily) step through the code and check a few small examples:

When I turned the camera off after the last video my younger son asked a really interesting question -> Why don’t we just use Mathematica’s “FactorInteger[]” function?

We talked about that for a bit in this video and then tried to use Shor’s algorithm to find the factors of a number that was the product of two 4 digit primes.

So, we had the camera off for a little over a minute after the last video, but the good news is that Mathematica did, indeed, finish the calculation. It was a nice (and somewhat accidental) example of how quickly this algorithm runs into trouble.

The cool thing, though, is that it did work 🙂

Definitely a fun project, though it does require a bit more computer power than most of our other projects. I’m happy to be catching up a little on Kelsey Houston-Edwards’s video series – it really is one of the best math-related things on the internet!