Learning from TED: June 11, 2014

I know… I was going to watch TED videos and report on what I had learned.  Well, I have been watching them, but I haven’t done so well on writing about them.  So today I want to mention some of the TED talks I have watched lately.  Most of them, as you will note, have had some tie to mathematics, my current focus as a teacher.

The last video I watched was The mathematics of war by Sean Gourley.  This talk focused on the statistics of conflicts like the war in Iraq, looking at a mathematical formula that can describe what is going on or, in this case, what was going on in 2009.  I found it really fascinating that math could be used to analyze something as seemingly random as war.  But it can.  And Gourley makes a case for examining the math of particular conflicts as a means of learning how to proceed.

Another talk that I really enjoyed was The beautiful math of coral by Margaret Wertheim.  In it she explained how she and her sister are crocheting a model of a coral reef.  They undertook the project to make coral reefs, and the effects of global warming on them, more real to people.  In the process, they demonstrate the concept of hyperbolic space.   I was fascinated by this and wanted to go out at one and start crocheting coral.  It also seemed like it might be a project some of my students, who were learning to crochet at the end of the school year.  We’ll see.  Wertheim concludes her talk calling for more playing with ideas, not just study of them.  She says:

We live in a society now where we have lots of think tanks, where great minds go to think about the world. They write these great symbolic treatises called books, and papers, and op-ed articles. We want to propose, Chrissy and I, through The Institute for Figuring, another alternative way of doing things, which is the play tank. And the play tank, like the think tank, is a place where people can go and engage with great ideas. But what we want to propose, is that the highest levels of abstraction, things like mathematics, computing, logic, etc. — all of this can be engaged with, not just through purely cerebral algebraic symbolic methods, but by literally, physically playing with ideas.

Now that is something I can totally support.

The final talk that I want to mention today is The math and magic of origami by Robert Lang.  This was another one that had me thinking of projects for my students.  Lang describes the math behind origami, something I had never thought about before.   he also talks about how origamists have been consulted in the building of space telescopes and car airbags — even heart valve stents.  It is really cool!

So I have learned a few things from these talks other in addition to getting ideas for my students.  I have learned that I need to get back to watching these talks on a regular basis.  I have also learned that math is way cooler than even I thought!



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