Tag number theory

Sharing John Cook’s Fibonacci / Prime post with kids

Saw a neat post from John Cook about using a fun fact about the Fibonacci numbers to prove there are an infinite number of primes:

Infinite Primes via Fibonacci numbers by John Cook

Funny enough, we’ve played with the Fibonacci idea before thanks to Dave Radcliffe:

Dave Radcliffe’s Amazing Fibonacci GCD post

That project was way too long ago for the kids to remember, so today we started by just trying to understand what the Fibonacci identity means via a few examples:

Next we looked at the idea from Cook’s post that we need to understand to use the Fibonacci identity to prove that there are an infinite number of primes. The ideas are a little subtle, but I think the are accessible to kids with some short explanation:

We got hung up on one of the subtle points in the proof (that is pointed out in the first comment on Cook’s post). The idea is that we need to find a few extra prime numbers from the Fibonacci sequence since the 2nd Fibonacci number is 1. Again, this is a fairly subtle point, but I thought it was worth trying to work through it so that the boys understood the point.

Finally, we went upstairs to the computer to explore some of the results a bit more using Mathematica. Luckily Mathematica has both a Fibonacci[] function and a Prime[] function, so the computer exploration was fairly easy.

One thing that was nice here was that my older son was pretty focused on the idea that we might see different prime numbers in the Fibonacci list than we saw in the list of the first n primes. We saw quickly that his idea was, indeed, correct.

This project made me really happy 🙂 If you are willing to take the Fibonacci GCD property for granted, Cook’s blog post is a great way to introduce kids to some of the basic ideas you need in mathematical proofs.

An AMC12 algebra problem that gave my son trouble

The problem below gave my son some trouble this morning:

Algebra.jpg

When he got home from school we talked about it in more detail and it seemed to make more sense for him than it did this morning. The problem is a nice introductory algebra / quadratic problem:

Next I showed him a similar solution, but where “x” represented a different number:

Finally – just for a completely different way of looking at the problem – I wanted to show him a way that we could use the choices to help us find the solution. This is sort of cheating, but he was very confused by the problem this morning and I wanted to show him a way to get a little un-stuck when you are stuck.

Also, we got interrupted by the guy servicing our furnace – so sorry the video jumps in the middle 🙂

Sharing Kelsey Houston-Edwards’s Pigeonhole Principle video with kids

The 3rd video in Kelsey Houston-Edwards’s amazing new series was published last week. I’ve already used the first two videos for projects with the boys – I love this series so much!

Sharing Kelsey Houston-Edward’s [higher dimensional spheres] video with kids

Sharing Kelsey Houston-Edward’s Philosophy of Math video with kids

the latest video is about the Pigeonhole Principle and begins with the question – Do any two human beings have exactly the same number of body hairs:

Before diving into the video I asked the boys what they thought about the hair question – fortunately I got two different answers!

Next we watched Houston-Edwards’s new video:

Here’s how the boys reacted to the video:

(1) They were excited about the hair result and were also able to understand and explain it.

(2) They gave a nice summary of the Pigeonhole Principle.

(3) They really liked the example about 5 points on a sphere, so we took a really close look at that example. One of the tricky parts of that problem is understanding *why* you can draw an equator through any two points – both kids gave nice explanations of that idea.

Now I moved on to a couple of fun Pigeonhole Principle examples that weren’t covered in the video. I wanted to show the boys that the idea comes up in lots of different situations, including some that are not at all obvious Pigeonhole Principle situations!

The first example comes from my college combinatorics textbook – Applied Combinatorics with Problem Solving by Jackson and Thoro:

Screen Shot 2016-12-03 at 8.47.57 AM.png

Small twitter math world fun fact – the professor for this class (~25 years ago!) was Jim Propp!

Here’s the problem (which is example 5 on page 35 of the book):

Suppose that we are given a set X of 10 positive integers, now of which is greater than 100. Show that there are two disjoint nonempty subsets of this set whose elements have the same sum.

I had to do a little bit of work on the fly to translate the problem into something that the boys could understand (and also explain quickly why there are 1024 subsets), but it seemed like they enjoyed this example:

The last problem is one I remembered when reading through some of the other examples in Jackson and Thoro’s book and is one that I talked about with the boys last year:

A challenging arithmetic / number theory problem

Here’s the problem:

Show that every positive integer has a multiple whose base 10 representation consists of only 1’s and 0’s.

It certainly isn’t obvious at all at the start why this is a Pigeonhole Principle problem!

As I said at the beginning – I love this new series from Kelsey Houston-Edwards. I’m so happy to be able to use these videos to explore fun mathematical ideas with my kids!

Struggling through a challenging AMC 10 problem

This problem gave my son some difficulty yesterday – it is problem #19 from the 2011 AMC 10a

AMC10.jpg

Last night we talked through the problem. The talk took a while, but I was happy to have him slowly see the path to the solution. Here’s his initial look at the problem:

Next we looked at the equation y^2 - x^2 = 141. Solving this equation in integers is a nice lesson in factoring. Unfortunately by working a bit too quickly he goes down a wrong fork for a little bit.

In the last video we found that the original population of the town might have been 484, and it might have changed to 634 and then once more to 784. We had to check if 784 was a perfect square.

Finally, we needed to compute the approximate value (as a percent) of 300 / 484. The final step in this problem is a great exercise in estimating.

So, a really challenging problem, but also a great problem to learn from. We went through it one more time this morning just to make sure that some of the lessons had sunk in.

Revisiting James Tanton’s base 3/2 exercise

Several years ago we played around with James Tanton’s base 3/2 idea:

Fun with James Tanton’s base 1.5

A tweet from Tanton reminded me about his project earlier this week. I was excited to revisit it and got a double surprise when my older son told me that he actually did it in his 7th grade math class last week! It is nice – actually amazing – to see Tanton’s work showing up in my son’s math class!

An unfortunate common theme with some of our recent projects is that they aren’t going as well as I hoped they would. Still, though, this was fun and I’ll have to spend a bit more time thinking about the last bit – how to write 1/3 using base 3/2.

We started by reviewing base 2 and, in particular, how you can play around with binary using blocks.

Next we looked at base 3/2. I’m sorry that this video runs 10 min – I definitely should have broken it into 2 pieces.

Finally we accidentally walked into a black hole. I assumed that writing 1/3 in base 3/2 wouldn’t be that difficult and that an easy pattern would emerge quickly. Whoops.

Turns out that no pattern emerges quickly, and even playing around on Mathematica for a bit after we turned off the camera we couldn’t find the pattern. The discussion facilitated by the work on Mathematica was great – at least my kids learned that (i) there are multiple ways to write a number in base 3/2, and (ii) there are easy sounding project that I can’t figure out!

I hope to revisit this part after I understand it better myself. Any help in the comments would be appreciated.

I really like this project and am sad that a little bit of stumbling around by us might have obscured the beauty of Tanton’s idea. Hope we’ll be able to revisit it soon.

What a kid learning math looks like – a challenging base problem

My younger son has been working through Art of Problem Solving’s Introduction to Number Theory book this summer. The topic for the last few weeks has been arithmetic in different bases. Today he can across a problem that gave him a lot of trouble. He worked on it alone for about 15 minutes and then we talked about it.

Here’s the problem:

In a certain base (12)*(15)*(16) = 3146. What is that base?

Here’s the first part which summarizes his initial thoughts on the problem. The work he does here shows that the base used in this problem must be lower than 10. Once he discovers that fact we talked about a few other ways that we could have seen that the base wasn’t 10.

Next we tried to see how we could identify the base we were looking for using some of the ideas from the last video. We used the last digit idea to eliminate 7 and 8, but the last digit idea told us that base 9 might actually work.

Then we did the arithmetic to show that we were indeed looking for base 9.

So, a really challenging problem, but a fun talk for sure. Working through problems like this one are a great way to review arithmetic and a neat way for kids to learn some basic ideas in number theory.

Finishing Dave Radcliffe’s polynomial activity

We’ve spent the last two days talking about a math activity that I saw in a Dave Radcliffe tweet:

Those two project are here:

Dave Radcliffe’s polynomial activity day 1

Dave Radcliffe’s polynomial activity day 2

My younger son had a few ideas that we didn’t get to finish, so this morning we talked through a few of them. He was exploring (using Mathematica) (1 + x + x^2)^n in mod 3. We started by looking at Radcliffe’s picture:

 

We wrapped up today’s project by trying to find the pattern in the row numbers that had all 1’s for coefficients. This idea was a little bit of a struggle yesterday, but today we did find the pattern:

 

So, a really fun computer math project for kids. It was really fun to use Dave’s pictures to motivate the project and to help the kids explore some of the patterns that they found playing around in Mathematica.

Dave Radcliffe’s polynomial activity part 2

Last week I saw some really neat tweets from Dave Radcliffe. For example:

Those tweets led to a fun project yesterday:

Dave Radcliffe’s polynomial activity day 1

Today I had each of the boys explore (1 + x + x^2)^n mod 2 and mod 3. This is a harder exploration to do by hand (and made harder because I was out this morning and they worked on it alone). Still, it was interesting to hear what they had to day.

My younger son chose the more complicated activity of looking at the powers mod 3. Here’s what he found:

 

We then went to the computer to check if any of the patterns he thought were there would continue. He had some ideas but unluckily none of them worked. We’ll play more later to see if we can crack the code on the patterns:

 

Next I talked to my older son. He looked at powers of the polynomial (1 + x + x^2) mod 2.

Here’s what he noticed:

 

He didn’t have any conjectures, so I showed him the picture that Dave Radcliffe tweeted and that led to him seeing some additional patterns in what he’d written down on the sheet of paper:

 

So, I’m glad I saw Dave’s tweets because this project is a great computer math exercise. Exploring powers of these polynomials would have been next to impossible without the computer help, but with the computer help we were able to explore a few patterns. It’ll be fun to try to find ways to explore the patterns a bit more and see what we can find.

Dave Radcliffe’s polynomial activity day 1

Saw this really fun tweet from Dave Radcliffe yesterday:

This looked like a fun project for kids, though it wasn’t obvious how to get started. It turns out that Mathematica has a handy function called PolynomialMod[] that tells you what a polynomial looks like modulo an integer – so that made life easier!

I decided that for today’s project we’d explore (1 + x)^n using Mathematica and see what patterns we could find. The introduction to today’s project involved introducing basic polynomial multiplication. Luckily, a natural way to multiply polynomials looks a lot like multiplying 2-digit numbers. I used that connection to introduce the project:

After the introduction I had the boys play on Mathematica and compute various powers of (1 + x)^n starting with (1 + x)^0. We got a little confused between Fibonacci numbers and Pascal’s triangle, but here is what they saw:

For the last part of the project today we used PolynomialMod[] to look at the various powers of (1 + x)^n in mod 2. I wanted to get them used to this Mathematica function to make it easier to explore (1 + x + x^2)^n mod 2 tomorrow. After they explored the powers of (1 + x)^n mod 2 up to n = 8, we talked about patterns in the numbers:

So, a fun little computer math project. It was fun to hear the kids talk about the patterns and also fun to talk about some basic ideas like polynomial multiplication and modular arithmetic. Definitely excited to explore some of the more complicated patters tomorrow.

What a kid learning math can look like – different bases edition

My younger son is working his way through Art of Problem Solving’s Introduction to Number Theory this summer. He’s currently learning about different bases and how to convert from base 10 into those other bases.

A few days ago he wondered about how multiplication would work. Yesterday we worked through one example and was a great reminder about what a kid learning math can look like:

Today we looked at multiplication in different bases more carefully. First I picked a simple example to show him that the same process you use in base 10 works in other bases (so, you don’t have to convert to base 10 first):

Next I asked him to pick two numbers to multiply. Somewhat unluckily he picked two 4 digit numbers in base 2 so the calculation is a little tedious. Still, though, it all worked!

This was a really fun project – I can’t wait to work with him a little more on arithmetic in different bases.