For Teachers: NCTM KC Slides/Handouts

Thanks to everyone who came and had fun playing with Stats at the Middle School level.  Here are the pertinent links:

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The Mathematics of the Black Panther


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!


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!

All You Need Is…Math?

The Beatles famously shared songwriting credits for all of their songs; throughout history, it’s been gradually revealed whether or not John Lennon or Paul McCartney wrote each famous Beatles song.  However, there’s one song that they were never able to agree on.  Hear how mathematicians have determined who actually wrote The Beatles’ hit “In My Life”.


Listen to the song above.  Then you should read this NPR article and/or listen to the interview (top left of page).

Write a brief paragraph summary explaining in your own words how mathematicians determined the authorship of “In My Life”.  Write a second paragraph hypothesizing:  Where else might this statistical method be used?  Think not just in music, but in the written word as well.  How might historians and archaeologists use this method in other instances?

Finally check out this post, wherein the author used a technique similar to “Bags of Words” to see if a machine could read recipes and create new ones.  The results are…interesting.

Number Gossip


“Can you believe what 56 did?  It’s just so…odious!”

“Oh I know.  And 43 is so lucky, I can’t even stand it.”

You probably know a lot of properties of numbers like “even”, “odd”, “prime”, “square”…but there are so many more that you might have never heard of!  Head on over to Number Gossip to get the scoop!


Pick a favorite or interesting whole number.  It might be your uniform/jersey number for a sport you play, or your home address, or your lucky number, or something else entirely.  Enter it into the search field at Number Gossip.

  1.  List all of the “common properties” of your number that Number Gossip lists.  If any of those properties are unfamiliar to you, you should be able to click for an explanation.   Explain in a sentence next to each property why your number belongs to that property (Where applicable, give a specific reason for *your* number, not just a definition of the property).
  2. Pick one “rare property” (if your number has one; not all do) and do the same thing as in step 1.
  3. Pick one “unique property” (if your number has one; not all do) and do the same thing as in step 1.
  4. Search Number Gossip for the whole number directly before and after the number you chose.  How are the search results different?  How are they similar?  Write a few sentences comparing and contrasting, as well as your thoughts as to why they compare the way they do.




A Song of Pi

A mathematician/musician has taken the infinite decimal digits of Pi and composed a song based on them.  Take a look and listen to the song here:



(This badge will likely go much smoother for you if you’re musically inclined or have some basic training in reading music.)

Watch the video above.

  1.  First, reflect on what you think of the song.  Do you like it?  Is it pleasant to listen to?  In general, what are your feelings on using mathematics to help create a song?  Answer in a few sentences.
  2. Pause the video at the 9 second mark and look at the scale he used to compose his song (A Harmonic Minor Scale).  Hypothesize in a sentence or two why he used this scale to compose his song rather than a “simpler” one (like, for example G Major).
  3. Pick another irrational number besides Pi (Phi, e, the square root of two, etc.) Using the same scale and time signature (4/4) as the song above*, compose at least 8 bars of a song based on this irrational number.  You may print off sheet music here.
  4. I need to hear this song.  You can record it, you can bring in an instrument and play it, or you can bring in the sheet music and I can play it on guitar (just give me a heads up so I can bring in a guitar that day).
  5. Reflect on your new song in a couple of sentences. Do you like it?  Is it better or worse than the Pi song?  Has it changed the way you feel about math being used to create music?


* use a different scale and time signature if you really want to, but that seems more complicated and difficult than I am intending this to be.  But go for it if you want!  Likewise, you don’t have to worry about harmonies like you can hear in the original video, but if you’re capable and interested you are welcome to try!

This badge was suggested by USN Class of 2023 Colette.  Thanks, Colette!


For Teachers: #TMC18 Morning Session Wrap-Up & Reflections

I want to reflect publicly on the amazing experience that was #TMC18.  This was my third Twitter Math Camp, and I get more out of the experience every time I attend.  I am grateful to Dave Sabol, St. Ignatius High School, Lisa Henry, and the entire TMC planning committee for their hard work and dedication.  Thank you all.

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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.


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).