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How many Mathematicians Does It Take to Change A Light Bulb?

September 14, 2012

Patrick Vennebush

When not solving problems, telling jokes, playing gameswith his sons, managing projects for the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, or finding fun ways to help kids learn math, Patrick Vennebush plays Ultimate Frisbee, where he occasionally wins a national title.

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Patrick Vennebush is the Author

of Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks

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Here are two jokes from the book:

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Without geometry life is pointless.

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Economists have forecast ten of the last six recessions.

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There are some great resources @ Illuminations, The National Council for Teachers of Mathematics website.

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INTERVIEW WITH PATRICK

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Q1: What math topic was your favourite at school?

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Geometry is a mathematical jigsaw puzzle, except that you have to figure out which pieces you need as well as how to arrange them. But there was always something powerful about combining things I knew to prove things I didn’t.

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Q2: What math topic drove you insane?

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Combinatorics drove me mad. There are a million wrong ways to think about permutation and combination problems, but there’s only one right way to think about them. Even when the required calculations only take a few seconds to complete, the thinking to come to a solution might take hours.

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(Mathspig: Combinatorics? Wha? We just call them Permutations and Combinations in Aussie Land.)

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Q3: Did you ever do anything really exciting in math at school like go on an excursion to some weird math convention?

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No. I mean, this is crazy, but I can’t think of a single reason that I should like math… at least, not based on any great experiences.

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Q4: What math error in the media annoys you the most?

Misleading graphs, like this one from The New York Times.

 

 

Yep, Bush won, but this makes it look like it was a landslide.

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And I also hate arguments based on “man who” statistics. These are based on statements like “I know a man who…” and from that one example, great generalizations are made. More mathematically, results pulled from small samples are a huge problem, both in the media as well as in much of math education research. I can’t tell you the number of times that a researcher suggests that a particular teaching method is effective because there was a positive impact in just one or two classrooms. Oish.

(Mathspig. I think Oish is an underused word. We need a bring back the Oish Campaign.)

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Q5: Give me 3 reasons why you think students should do math.

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1)    To become proficient at problem solving, but more importantly, to understand that the greatest asset in problem solving is perseverance.

2)    To think logically. All the computational skills in the world won’t help if you can’t put the pieces together. (Mathspig: Yey!!!! My fav too)

3)    To be facile with numbers for daily life. So that when they’re confronted with various loan options or statistics in a newspaper, they can make an informed decision.

4)    Most importantly, to understand the jokes in my book. (or ve hit them vith pi. Mathspig)

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Q6: What is wrong with the way math is taught in American schools?

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Educators are too willing to sell kids a bill of goods. The curriculum contains a lot of topics that most students will never use. Honestly, when’s the last time you factored a trinomial? Part of the problem is the standards. Take the Common Core standards, for instance—they contain eight “practices” that artfully describe what a mathematically proficient student should be able to do, but then the practices are followed by a thousand standards that require nothing more than rote skills. Honestly, why are students asked to “derive the formula for the sum of a finite geometric series” to “calculate mortgage payments,” yet they’re never asked to consider the pros and cons of taking an adjustable rate mortgage?

But I’d also blame a lack of passion. The exceptional teachers I’ve met, the ones who are able to get their students excited about learning math, love numbers and shapes. They don’t have to convince their students that math is useful or interesting; their passion makes it obvious.

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Q7: What can teachers do right now to get kids more interested in math?

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I think there are two things they can do. First, be interested in math themselves. Second, keep their eyes open for examples of the usefulness of math in everyday life. (But, please, no more examples about measuring and cooking!)

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Q8: How does your blog/website/book help students with their math?

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Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks contains 400 jokes, which I think helps to dispel the myth of humorless mathematicians. Teachers can use the jokes in class, and research has shown that humor has physical, psychological, and pedagogical value. Laughing decreases blood pressure, reduces anxiety, increases retention of information, provokes thought, hones prediction and decision-making skills, creates a more open atmosphere, and actually aids with classroom management.

 

On the MJ4MF blog, I post funny math stories, interesting math problems, and examples of math in the real world. I don’t know that a student would ever become proficient in math simply by reading my blog… but hopefully I can help them see that math can be both fun and useful.

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Q9: Tell us one funny math story/joke.

 

Just one? Surely, you jest!

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How do you know if a mathematician is an extrovert?

When he talks to you, he looks at your shoes.

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A woman goes to the doctor. The doctor tells her that she only has six weeks left to live.

“Oh, my goodness! Doctor, what should I do?” she asks.

“Are you married?”

“No.”

“Then find an actuary, and marry him!”

“Will that help me live longer?” she asks.

“Well, no,” he says, “but it’ll feel longer.”

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Q10: If you ruled the world what would change to help kids get excited about math?

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Foremost, I’d make Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks be a required text for all courses.

Seriously, if I ruled the world, then I could do anything, right? I’d make teachers the highest paid professionals in the world, based entirely on merit. Teachers would get a base salary on which they could survive; and then, when their students were old enough to honestly and fairly assess their teachers, the students could provide ratings that would send huge bonuses to their previous teachers. I would never base a teacher’s pay on students’ standardized test scores. And while we’re at it, I’d throw away all standardized tests, period.

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Patrick Vennebush, for services above and beyond the call of math duty and for your outstanding contribution to the field of math humour, you are declared an Honourable Mathspig.

 

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5 comments

  1. […] my interview with Kerry to find out how I’d change education, what my favorite subject was, and to hear a few of my […]



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