Happy Hamilton Day (Belated)

While searching for posts to add to the Playful Math Carnival, I stumbled on a new-to-me math holiday.

Hamilton Day celebrates mathematical discovery — that “Aha!” moment when your eyes are opened and you see something new.

Or something new-to-you. That’s worth celebrating, too.

History of Hamilton Day

Irish mathematician William R. Hamilton was struggling with a tough math problem in October, 1843. It had him stumped. Then on the 16th, as he walked along Dublin’s Royal Canal with his wife, inspiration struck.

He suddenly realized he could look at the problem from a new direction, and that would make everything fall into place.

“And here there dawned on me the notion that we must admit, in some sense, a fourth dimension of space for the purpose of calculating with triples … An electric circuit seemed to close, and a spark flashed forth.”

—Sir William Rowan Hamilton

In one of the most famous acts of vandalism in math history, Hamilton pulled out a knife and scratched his new equation into the stone of the Broome Bridge: i² = j² = k² = ijk = -1.

Also by Hamilton

“Who would not rather have the fame of Archimedes than that of his conqueror Marcellus?”

—Sir William Rowan Hamilton
quoted in H. Eves, Mathematical Circles Revisited

Why Celebrate Hamilton Day

“So there’s much to celebrate on Hamilton Day. Beyond its utility, we can appreciate mathematics as a human endeavor, with struggles and setbacks and triumphs. We can highlight the opportunity math affords for daring, creativity, and out-of-the-box thinking.

“Hamilton Day could, in other words, pivot away from Pi Day’s gluttony and memorization, neither of which is part of mathematics, toward the intellectual freedom and drama that are.”

— Katharine Merow
Celebrate Hamilton Day, a Better Mathematical Holiday

How Will You Celebrate?

  • Learn about a new-to-you math topic.
  • Work on a tough math problem.
  • Think about different ways to do things.
  • Try a nonstandard approach.
  • Talk about how it feels when you learn something new and it finally makes sense.

I’ve penciled Hamilton Day (October 16) into my calendar for next year.

How about you?

I’d love to hear your ideas for celebrating math! Please share in the comments section below.

CREDITS: Commemorative plaque photo (top) by Cone83, CC BY-SA 4.0. Hamilton portrait by Unknown artist and “Death of Archimedes” by Thomas Degeorge, public domain. All via Wikimedia Commons.

Math That Is Beautiful

One of the sections in my book Let’s Play Math: How Families Can Learn Math Together — and Enjoy It encourages parents to make beautiful math with their children.

Do you have trouble believing that math can be beautiful?

In “Inspirations,” artist Cristóbal Vila creates a wonderful, imaginary work studio for the amazing M.C. Escher. You’ll want to view it in full-screen mode.

How many mathematical objects could you identify?

Vila offers a brief explanation of the history and significance of each item on his page Inspirations: A short movie inspired on Escher’s works.

Read about the inspirations, and then try making some math of your own.

“I looked into that enormous and inexhaustible source of inspiration that is Escher and tried to imagine how it could be his workplace, what things would surround an artist like him, so deeply interested in science in general and mathematics in particular. I imagined that these things could be his travel souvenirs, gifts from friends, sources of inspiration…”

—Cristóbal Vila
Inspirations: A short movie inspired on Escher’s works

Hidden Figures Teaching Resources

Are you taking your kids to see the movie Hidden Figures? Check out Raymond Johnson’s blog post for references and teaching ideas:

If you know of any other resources, please share in the comments below. And as I find new goodies, I’ll add them to the list below.

Teachers and Students in Action

Lesson Plan Resources

Background Information

Before computers were machines, computers were people who computed things. This complicated task often fell to women because it was considered basically clerical. That’s right: computing triple integrals all day long qualified as clerical.

— Samantha Schumacher
Hidden Figures Movie Review

A Bit About Pi

From Numberphile: “Some stuff about Pi, the ‘celebrity number’. This video features maths-loving author Alex Bellos and Professor Roger Bowley from the University of Nottingham.”

Did you notice the error? It was supposed to be “a”…


howtosolveproblemsWant to help your kids learn math? Claim your free 24-page problem-solving booklet, and sign up to hear about new books, revisions, and sales or other promotions.

HexaFlexaParty This Weekend!

Sunday, October 21, is the worldwide hexaflexagon party in honor of Martin Gardner’s birthday. Gardner’s article about hexaflexagons launched his career as a recreational math guru who inspired people all around the world to love math.

Here’s how to join in the fun:

Hexaflexagon History

Continue reading HexaFlexaParty This Weekend!

What Is a Proof?

I’ve been enjoying the Introduction to Mathematical Thinking course by Keith Devlin. For the first few weeks, we mostly talked about language, especially the language of logical thinking. This week, we started working on proofs.

For a bit of fun, the professor emailed a link to this video. My daughter Kitten enjoyed it, and I hope you do, too.

Full lesson available at Ted-Ed.


howtosolveproblemsWant to help your kids learn math? Claim your free 24-page problem-solving booklet, and sign up to hear about new books, revisions, and sales or other promotions.

Who Killed Professor X?

What a Fun Book!

professorX

Who Killed Professor X? is a work of fiction based on actual incidents, and its heroes are real people who left their mark on the history of mathematics. The murder takes place in Paris in 1900, and the suspects are the greatest mathematicians of all time. Each suspect’s statement to the police leads to a mathematical problem, the solution of which requires some knowledge of secondary-school mathematics. But you don’t have to solve the puzzles in order to enjoy the book.

Fourteen pages of endnote biographies explain which parts of the mystery are true, which details are fictional, and which are both (true incidents slightly modified for the sake of the story).

I ordered Who Killed Professor X? from The Book Depository (free shipping worldwide!), and it only took 5 days to arrive here in the middle of the Midwest. My daughter Kitten, voracious as always, devoured it in one sitting — and even though she hasn’t studied high school geometry yet, she was able to work a couple of the problems.


howtosolveproblemsWant to help your kids learn math? Claim your free 24-page problem-solving booklet, and sign up to hear about new books, revisions, and sales or other promotions.

Happy Birthday, Einstein (Part 4)

Albert Einstein’s birthday was a couple of weeks ago, but today we have a belated celebration. MinutePhysics has finally finished its series on Einstein’s “wonder year” discoveries of 1905. In the last video, we began learning about the Special Theory of Relativity. This time, we find out how that theory leads to the most famous equation in the world…

Continue reading Happy Birthday, Einstein (Part 4)

Happy Birthday, Einstein (Part 3)

In 1905, when he was 26 years old, Albert Einstein rocked the scientific world with a series of papers that changed our understanding of the nature of the universe. At MinutePhysics, the celebration continues:

More Einstein Videos


howtosolveproblemsWant to help your kids learn math? Claim your free 24-page problem-solving booklet, and sign up to hear about new books, revisions, and sales or other promotions.