Category Archives: Math, Equity, & Culture

The Mathematics of the Black Panther

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As part of Chalkdust Magazine‘s celebration of Black Mathematician Month 2018, Dr. Nira Chamberlain discusses one of Shuri’s creations in Marvel’s Black Panther movie; T’challa’s suit, which supposedly disperses energy from impact blows and absorbs the shock to minimize damage.  Is this mathematically possible?  Read on to find out!

BADGING:

Read the article linked above.

In a paragraph, describe what would have to be true about a suit that disperses kinetic energy in the way that Black Panther’s suit does in the movie.  A suit like that hasn’t been invented yet, but a mathematical model has been made.  Describe in your own words what characteristics that suit would have in order to make the energy dispersal possible.

In a second paragraph, think of some movie tech that doesn’t yet exist (choose a favorite movie that contains some sci-fi or futuristic element to it).  If you were to make a theoretical model of that tech, what type of mathematical and scientific questions would you have to address before attempting to build a prototype?  For T’challa’s suit, mathematicians had to determine how to disperse the shock of impact.  What would have to be mathematically feasible for different movie tech?  Be sure to tell me what movie and what tech you’re discussing!

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Mayan Mathematics

Certain schools on the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico are teaching native students the mathematics that was done by their ancient ancestors in the Mayan civilization.  Check it out in the video above.

BADGING:

Watch the video and pay attention to how the Mayans write their numbers and conduct simple arithmetic.  Answer the following questions.

  1.  How would you express the number 19 using the Mayan notation?
  2. In the video, the news reporter shows how to do the arithmetic 16 + 7.  Replicate that arithmetic using drawings.
  3. Now create a drawing/notation using the Mayan method to conduct the arithmetic 18 + 6.
  4. Explain at least three reasons why it is important for these children to be taught this method of arithmetic alongside the “typical” methods (like the way you learned to do addition, for example).

 

Lindsey Vonn Wants To Race Against The Men. Should the Olympics Allow It?

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With the 2018 Winter Olympics in full swing, 538 has published an analysis of Men’s vs. Women’s skiing statistics.  In the history of the Olympics, men and women have always raced separately and received separate medals.  American Olympian Lindsey Vonn wants to be able to race against the men.  What do the numbers say about this?

BADGING:

Read the article linked above.  Answer the following questions in a couple of sentences each.

  1.  In what skiing event(s), if any, do men appear to be consistently faster?  In what skiing event(s), if any, do women appear to be consistently faster?  In what skiing event(s), if any, does there not appear to be any discernible difference between men’s and women’s speed?
  2. What other factor(s) do we need to take into account about the men’s and women’s skiing events besides their average speed?
  3. Using the data provided in the article, write a short paragraph making an argument either FOR or AGAINST women racing against men in alpine skiing events.  (There is no correct stance to take on this issue, but you must use the data to support your claim.  Don’t just state your opinion.)
  4. Does Lindsey Vonn think she would win against the men?  What do you think is her motivation for wanting to race against the men?

Fairy Circles and the Mathematics of Nature

Mathematician Dr. Corina Tarnita studies the mathematics of nature and biology, including things called “fairy circles”.  Watch the video above and read more about her work here (via Quanta).

BADGING:

Watch the video and read her interview at the link above.  Answer the following questions in a couple of complete sentences each.

  1.  Explain (from the video) her comparison of liking magic tricks to understanding how nature works.  What did she mean by this?
  2. What are fairy circles, and how does mathematics play a role in how termites help to create them?
  3. What does Dr. Tarnita hope that “patterns” and “symmetry” will help teach them about the ecosystem in the African savannah?

Gerrymandering

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Gerrymandering is the term for when political borders (shapes of districts, etc.) are set so that one political party/group gains an advantage.  It’s widespread, but there are some cases in the court system now trying to address the issue — and mathematicians are helping.  From The Nib comes a comic the describes mathematicians’ roles when it comes to Gerrymandering.  Check it out!

BADGING:

Read the comic linked above.  Answer the following questions in a couple of sentences each.

  1.  Using the cartoon of red/blue houses, explain how gerrymandering can take an evenly split vote between two parties and make it a “majority win” for one of the parties.
  2. Courts have rules against districts in the past for racially-based gerrymandering.  But why have the court systems been mostly powerless to rule on partisan gerrymandering cases to this point?
  3. Mathematicians are tackling the unresolved question of how “compact” districts can be and how to define that compact-ness.  What are two ways that “compact” can be defined mathematically?
  4. In your own words, describe what is meant by “negative curvature”.  Why is this a red flag for districts?
  5. How are mathematicians using “maps that could have been” as a way to frame the gerrymandering discussion?

 

 

 

Categorizing Flags

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Via CityLab comes a bunch of infographics that examine how different flags around the world are constructed.  Pretty cool stuff!

BADGING:

Pick the United States and one other country (Your choice!  Maybe this is a country that you’ve visited, one where you have lived at one time in your life, one where a family member lives, or just one you are interested in for any reason).

Look through the infographics at the link above and answer the following questions about the flags for the USA and the other country that you chose.

  1.  Do your countries’ flags (USA and the other one you chose) have any of the five most typical layouts?  If so, which ones?
  2. Do your countries’ flags have any of the most typical colors included in them?  Which ones?
  3. Research what the colors on your countries’ flags are used to represent. Are they the most typical meaning behind those colors, or a less-used meaning?
  4. Do your countries’ flags include any of the five most common symbols?  Which ones?
  5. How complex are your countries’ flags?  If they are more than just “Child’s Play”, what elements do you think made the flags more complicated?
  6. Finally, imagine you were going to create a new country and had to design a flag.  Given what you learned about flag design from these infographics, how would you design your flag so that it was similar enough to other world flags (doesn’t feel like a huge outlier) but still different enough to be recognizable and unique (doesn’t feel like a copycat) ?  Draw/color a sketch of your new flag after you print out your answers to the previous five questions.

 

Why Math Is The Best Way To Make Sense of the World

 

From the original article at Quanta, see the video above for Dr. Rebecca Goldin’s explanation for why mathematics helps the world to make sense.

BADGING:
Watch the above video.  Answer the following questions in a couple of paragraphs.

We define the term literacy as the ability to read and write (and understand what you read and write).  Using that as a basis, what do you think Dr. Goldin means by the term quantitative literacy?

Why does Dr. Goldin think quantitative literacy is so important?  What can individuals who are quantitatively literate accomplish?

In her Quanta interview (towards the bottom), they discuss her work with an organization called STATS.  Explain what STATS is hoping to accomplish, and how it is related to her views on quantitative literacy that you described earlier.  (You don’t have to read the entire article — you may — but you can skip ahead to where they discuss her work with STATS).