Alexandria Jones and the Strange Attractor

640px-Clifford_att1

[Feature photo above: Clifford Attractor by Yami89 (public domain) via Wikimedia Commons.]

Alexandria Jones collapsed onto the couch with a dramatic sigh. Her father, the world-famous archaeologist Dr. Fibonacci Jones, glanced up from his newspaper and rolled his eyes.

“I don’t even want to hear about it,” he said.

Alex’s brother Leonhard was playing on the floor, making faces at the baby. He looked up at Alex and grinned.

“I’ll take the bait,” he said. “What happened?”

“Mom called my bedroom a Strange Attractor.”

“Oh? What does it attract?”

“I don’t know. Mostly books and model horses. But what’s so strange about that?”

The Mathematics of Chaos

Animation of a double compound pendulum showing chaotic behaviour.

Dr. Jones laughed and put down his paper. “Strange attractor is a technical term from the branch of mathematics called dynamical systems analysis — often called chaos theory.”

“So my bedroom is a math problem?”

“No. I think Mom meant your bedroom was chaos.”

“Oh.” Alex looked like she might pout, then she shrugged. “I guess she’s right, at that. So what is a strange attractor, really?”

“Well, when scientists first drew graphs of classical, non-chaotic systems — like a planet’s orbit or the flight of a football — it was surprising how often they got an ellipse or parabola or some similar curve,” Dr. Jones explained. “For some reason, nature seemed to be attracted to the shapes of classical geometry.”

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Babymath: Story Problem Challenge III

Photo by Raphael Goetter via Flickr

<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/goetter/2352128932/"Photo by Raphael Goetter via Flickr

Alex and Leon enjoyed their baby sister, but they were amazed at how much work taking care of a baby could be. One particularly colicky night, everyone in the family took turns holding the baby, rocking the baby, patting her back, and walking her around before she finally succumbed to sleep.

Then Alex collapsed on the couch, and Leon sank into the recliner. They teased each other with these story problems.

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Graph-It Game

[Photo by Scott Schram via Flickr.]

For Leon’s Christmas gift, Alex made the Graph-It game. She wrapped a pad of graph paper and wrote up the instructions:

To play Graph-It, one person designs a picture made by connecting points on a coordinate graph. He reads the points to the other player, who tries to reproduce the picture.

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Renée’s Platonic Mobile

Alexandria Jones struggled to think of a Christmas gift that a one-month-old baby could enjoy, but finally she got an idea.

She cut empty cereal boxes to make regular polygons: 6 squares, 12 regular pentagons, and 32 equilateral triangles. Using small pieces of masking tape, she carefully formed the five Platonic solids. Then she mixed flour and water into a runny paste. She tore an old newspaper into small strips and soaked them in the paste. She covered each solid with a thin layer of paper.

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A Football Puzzle

[Photo by rdesai.]

The MIT Mathmen got the ball on their own 20-yard line for the last drive of the game. They were down by 2 points, so they needed at least a field goal to win the game.

If quarterback Zeno and his offense advanced the ball halfway to the opposing team’s end zone on each play…

Continue reading A Football Puzzle

And the Baby Is . . .

[Photo by gabi menashe.] This story is continued from Alexandria Jones and the Eighty-Yard Drive

There was a time-out on the field, and the Jones family sat down for a brief rest. Sam asked, “How do babies decide when it’s time to be born?”

“Well, son, it has to do with numbers. You see,” Uncle Will explained, “the baby spends his first month thinking about the number one.”

“That’s not much to think about,” Sam said. “But I suppose he can’t handle much at that age.”

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Alexandria Jones and the Eighty-Yard Drive


[Photo by West Point Public Affairs.]

Alexandria Jones pulled the last sheet of chocolate chip cookies from the oven and inhaled deeply. Mmm! Perfect. And just in time — Mom was calling her to the car. She slid the cookies into a plastic bowl but left the lid off so the steam could escape. The Jones family was going to meet Uncle Will and Alex’s cousin Sam for a tail-gate picnic before the big football game.

Continue reading Alexandria Jones and the Eighty-Yard Drive