Friday, December 31, 2010

The Joy of Stats [Video]

I often tell my students that learning mathematics will help us understand better the world around us. However, I often fall short of proving this point to my students. Fortunately, I found the video "The Joy of Stats," narrated by Professor Hans Rosling, to help me prove my point about the importance of learning mathematics. Professor Rosling use effective visual and storytelling techniques to persuade the viewers how powerful is learning statistics. Enjoy!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Math is everywhere! Even with the Miami Heat lineup!

I told you many times that math is everywhere! Even with the Heat! Coach using combination of lineups with his 3 superstars to maximize their talents to get wins. As a Miami Heat fan, math is even more beautiful when applied to one of my favorites basketball team. Go HEAT!

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Spoelstra's new math adds up for LeBron, Wade, Bosh

Heat's Chris Bosh opts for the rare inside passage
Photos: Lakers vs. Heat
The Miami Heat's Big Three are winning together to a degree because of how coach Erik Spoelstra has kept them apart.
With 3:26 to play in the first quarter, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh left the court together.

At the start of the second quarter, it was LeBron James who was out, with Wade and Bosh back in. Shortly after James returned, Wade and Bosh went to the bench.
The pattern was the same in the second half, with Wade and Bosh checking out with 2:46 to play in the third quarter and then opening the fourth quarter together while James was on the bench.
"I was just looking for something to break it up," Spoelstra said of the long division when it came to the playing time of his three stars. "I was playing LeBron 14, 15 straight minutes and I didn't want to do that. So I just decided to sit him out after the first-quarter break and to do that, I wanted to keep as many of the other guys on the court as possible.
The approach has allowed each star to have their moments of focus, while also keeping them fresh enough to finish together.
"That is a tough balance, where they can be who they've been for years and been so successful and yet strike a balance," Spoelstra said.
"That's the purpose and the reason for us three coming together, to have that dynamic of if one guy's going great, if other guys are going great," Wade said. "That's why we have different lineups.

How a kid see failure when learning mathematics!

This kid's quote struck me the most in the article: "You shouldn't think you aren't smart if you can't figure something out. Every time you get an answer wrong, you're one step closer to getting it right."

Beautifully stated! I need to help my developmental math students realize the benefits of failure the same way this kid did.

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Bethel boy can solve complex math equations in his head

Quick, what is the square root of 987?

For most people the answer involves finding the nearest calculator.

For 11-year-old Ethan Brown of Bethel, however, the answer

akes just a few seconds of mental effort. Ethan learned how to calculate problems in his mind from "Secrets of Mental Math," a book co-written by Arthur Benjamin, a mathematics professor at Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, Calif. Benjamin is known worldwide as a "mathemagician," a man who can mentally multiply enormous numbers.

I can square a two-digit number in my head instantly, a three-digit number in five to 20 seconds, and a four-digit number in two minutes.

Another thing I can do is name the day of the week of anyone's birthday.

I would like to be a math teacher. I want to get kids excited about math. Math is really an interesting topic. Unlike what people may think, it's not just limited to the subjects you are taught in school, like algebra and geometry.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Another practical reason to master your math skills

Every math educator has been asked at some point the following question by at least one of their students: "When I will use this?!?" This question is often difficult to answer because the usefulness of mathematics is a personal matter. Though mathematics is involved in every aspect of our lives, the degree level on how we use mathematics depends on the type of job we do or what tasks or goals we are trying to accomplish. For example, I constantly use mathematics in my career as a math educator, not only in teaching but also in my decision making when designing learning activities.

However, here is an interesting article that can be used as a general answer to the most frequent asked question from math students: to attain a sustainable lifestyle. I encourage you to read the article to gain awareness on how math is essential to increase our chances to live a comfortable lifestyle, a goal shared by most of us. Enjoy the reading!

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Basic math is key to wealth accumulation

It seems people who can handle basic math problems tend to accumulate more wealth than the numerically challenged.

A recent study found that couples who score well on a simple test of "numeracy" - the ability to reason with mathematical concepts - have attained greater wealth, with more money invested in the stock market.

He cited skills such as an ability to multiply, divide and compute percentages, plus a familiarity with interest rates, compounding and present vs. future value.

The study also found that when a less math-proficient spouse is the main financial decision maker, household wealth tends to be lower. Men, incidentally, assume this role more than women, at least within those 50 and older.

Numerical ability appears to be more critical for wealth accumulation than other cognitive skills such as having a good memory.

As noted, the study showed that people who are more comfortable with numbers accumulate more wealth and own more stock investments. In this regard, Smith cited another useful literacy skill: the ability to recognize that the danger of losing money in the stock market lessens over time.


Saturday, November 20, 2010

Football and Mathematics

No doubt that football has become the U.S. favorite pastime. People tail gate in the stadiums' parking lot many hours before the start of a game. Many more people are loyal and frantic fans who carry funny signs or dress down when attending the games. Those who do not physically attend are still following the game through their fantasy football teams, betting with friends or online, watching it in sports bars or at home, or just listening the game on the radio in their way to work or home. In other words, football has become ubiquitous!

Southern Tier Youth Football Conference, by jdanvers, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  jdanvers 

But do you know what else is also ubiquitous? Mathematics! Yes, math is everywhere! NBC and Scientific American has created a series of videos and articles about the "Science of Football." I encourage you to visit the following links:

and watch/read how mathematics plays a major factor in making football U.S. favorite past time. Enjoy!

What Do a Submarine, a Rocket and a Football Have in Common?

Why the prolate spheroid is the shape for success

Baseballs, basketballs and many other sports balls rely on a spherical, uniform design that makes them easy to shoot, throw and hit. A football, however, owes its two-dimensional origin to the ellipse rather than the circle, giving the pigskin its prolate spheroid shape, which has a polar axis that is greater than its equatorial diameter.
This shape makes the football more difficult throw than a spherical ball. But, as a prolate spheroid, a football experiences less drag as it cuts through the air, which explains why you can toss a football farther than a spherical ball such as a basketball or soccer ball that is roughly the same size and weight.
Aircraft, submarines and rockets share the basic design principles as footballs in that their shapes are elongated in an effort to reduce drag.
prolate spheroids cannot match the distance of one class of geometric shape: A flying disc (Frisbee) or ring (Aerobie) not only have slim profiles that reduce drag and rotation that increase stability, but they also create lift, enabling them to carry quite far.Read more at

Monday, November 15, 2010

Life is a Gamble!?!

When I created this blog, the purpose was to help my students gain awareness of how mathematics is essential in many facets of our lives. Interestingly, I have realized that I am also gaining awareness of how I use mathematics seamlessly in my personal life.

My wife and I recently were discussing how to pay our monthly bills with my paycheck, because unfortunately, she did not receive her paycheck from a new job she got recently. We did not know the reasons why she did not receive her paycheck, but we knew that we have to pay the bills of the current month. My wife and I sat in the kitchen table discussing which bills should be paid or not based on many factors, such as late fees, damage to our credit line, and so forth. In a way, we were applying mathematics to our decision process because we were making calculated risks to decide which bills to pay or not.

I encourage you to read the article "Lectures Explore the Math of Decision-Making" because it brought up in me the realization of how many times I make decisions based on calculated risks. I hope you find the article as interesting as I did.

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Lecture Explores the Math of Decision-Making

FIGURE 2: The different types of gamblers.
"People take risks at the casino but also in life," said Math Professor Sid Kolpas
As the returns on bets fluctuate, so does the gambler's mood and betting strategy.
How a human gambler responds to gain and loss is not symmetric like it is for Homo œconomicus, an imaginary being Allen dreamed up to demonstrate the rational, predictable decision-maker. "Homo œconomicus has only one desire: to increase his wealth."
Homo œconomicus would never play the lottery because the odds of winning the lottery are about one in 100 million, which is 0.000001 percent.
People tend to overreact to small probability events.
"What I'm interested in personally are the other types of gambles we have to make: who to marry, which house to buy and when to buy it, whether society can afford to ignore global warming."Read more at

Monday, September 13, 2010

When will I use this?

I found this video during the summer but never had the chance to post it in my blog. Hopefully, this video will answer the question that is often asked in my developmental math courses: When will I use this?

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Math Plebian: What is Mathematics? Part 1

This morning I was checking my Google Alerts in Gmail. One of my alerts was about "Mathematics Education," which contained the link to the following blog post:

The Math Plebian: What is Mathematics? Part 1

What an interesting question! I once asked my developmental math students (college level) the same question and only a handful of them were able to provide a response that was not taken from a dictionary, encyclopedia, or math website. My students were not able to see many of their daily actions or decisions as a form of mathematics. For them, math just happens in the math classroom; in other words, math is just a class or course!

No wonder why they are taking my class, in which they are learning what they should have learned during their schooling years! No wonder why they dislike math or perceive acquiring this knowledge as a waist of their time! For such reason, one of my goals as a math instructor is to create awareness among my students of how math is everywhere! This is why I created this blog.

I want to share examples in which mathematics is a key factor when they think, decide, and do something in their daily lives. For example, I am Fantasy Football enthusiast (check my team this year: What do you think about my team? Any suggestions?) and the way I play this game is based on how I analyze the statistics of each player and football team to make my decisions of using a player or team. However, I hardly think playing this game as a way of doing mathematics. I just PLAY the game. This is what I want my students to achieve after they finish taking my developmental math courses: become aware that we do mathematics every day as a seamless human activity.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

You don't believe me that math is everywhere?! Just check this out!

Listen how Phil Mickelson, one of the best professional golf players in the world, use math (statistics & exponential functions) to improve his game and be the best. Amazing! Math is Everywhere!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Take algebra? Why? I'll never use it in real life!

Take algebra? Why? I'll never use it in real life! |

Here I am again trying to get into the habit of posting in my blog at least once a month. This time, I want to post about an interesting article about algebra that I read today in the Ocala Business Journal (click link above). Coincidentally, I recently had one of my online algebra students questioning why we need letters (i.e. variables) in mathematics. This student could not comprehend the logic for mixing letters with numbers. Unfortunately, my student has not realized that algebra is about describing patterns or processes instead about arithmetic computations.

Here is the response I sent to my student attempting to clarify the reasons for using variables in algebra:

Dear Student,

When solving real-life problems, we are always missing essential information (the reason is called 'a problem'). Several times finding the missing information involves just doing a simple step: add, subtract, multiply, or divide two amounts.

However, there will be times finding the missing information involves several steps and working backwards. In these instances, the most efficient way to solve a real-life problem is setting the problem as an equation and represent the missing information with variables.

The goal of solving equations is to undo (work backwards or 'reverse engineering') the original steps that created the problem. Working backwards a real-life problem is not an intuitive and easy task to do (examples: solving a crime or auditing a business). Solving equations to the unknown value (the variable -- letter), we are training our brains to think backwards in a logical and structured manner.

Therefore, representing the missing information with a variable (letter) and solving the equation that contains it, we are solving the real-life problem in an efficient manner. This is why we need variables in mathematics.

I hope this helps.

I will soon be sending to my student the link of the Ocala Business Journal to enhance and support the basic idea I tried to convey above. Articles from the media often tend to add more credibility to what I am trying to do in my classroom: math awareness.

Friday, January 15, 2010

The cost of innumeracy is too high!

Many students often question the reasons of why colleges force them to take basic skills mathematics courses and require them to develop acceptable or high proficiency levels (e.g. earn 90% in MATH097). It is not rare occurence to read or listen students claiming they do not need mathematics in their chosen career path or to make a living. Another instance is when students shut down opportunities to appreciate the value of learning mathematics due to their fears (math anxiety), beliefs (e.g. "boys are better in math than girls"), and attitudes (self-talk down) about mathematics that are based on unfortunate past experiences.

The consequences of all of these disabling students' behaviors about learning and appreciating mathematics are too costly and disempowering. Unfortunately, students do not realize this until is too late. If you are one of my students, I encourage you to read the article (click the link below) "Why nerds must rescue the American economy: Lack of math skills contributes to consumers getting ripped off" to become aware of the importance of being math literate to survive and flourish in today's society.

Why nerds must rescue the American economy

Lack of math skills contributes to consumers getting ripped

Higher mathematics is the backbone of science. Practical math is the glue that
keeps society together and keeps an economy functioning.
Consumers who can’t calculate tips have no chance in a car salesman's back room
or a mortgage broker's office.

  • Only 42 percent of adults were able to
    pick out two items on a menu, add them, and calculate a tip.
  • Only one in five people could reliably
    calculate mortgage interest.
  • One in five were unable to calculate a
    weekly salary when told an hourly pay rate.
Consumers who can’t do math make bad choices, raising the cost of goods for
everyone else.
Innumerates hate math and are sometimes proud of that fact.
In fact, unlike other failings which are often hidden, Mathematical illiteracy
is often flaunted.
People who don’t understand numbers are prone to making terrible risk
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