Playing with numbers

            Last week I was called by Ponkshe Sir, my high school Maths and Physics teacher (on paper; he taught many other subjects/topics) and one of my favorite teachers. It was regarding whether I can give a small talk on ‘fun with numbers’ as a part of ज्ञानवर्धक व्याख्यानमाला organized by Educational Resource Center, Jnana Prabodhini. We had a brief but useful chat.

           I was initially a little skeptical; while numbers do fascinate me, I am not that much used to teaching or talking to high-schoolers. The idea/topic was indeed suitable though considering playing with numbers has been a good way to spend free time since 4th standard. We discussed how that habit is getting lost and he also recommended reading a few books like ‘A Book of Numbers’ by John Conway and Richard Guy. It got me thinking “Hey these are things I have done before; may be I can talk about this”.

I would play with numbers like other kids play with their friends

                                                        – Daniel Tammet

           This blog post is kind of aftermath. It was a very different experience considering the kids seemed to listen (I, at that age would certainly not listen patiently to a mustache-less young man speaking continuously about mathematics). Again no one can generalize based on a small sample but I can surely comment about the process of preparing to teach playing with numbers. So I started with above quote. Will young people (well it is sort of embarrassing as I am sounding old despite not being that old) share the sentiment Tammet is describing?

           So I reasoned what would they possibly like to hear about. An obvious start was calculation tricks, fibonacci numbers, numbers in nature, stories of mathematicians etc. Stories fine, acts as interesting as filler but others are complete overkill. Especially calculation tricks, since people tend to explain their working it takes entire joy out of it. So first thing first, act as a magician and do not reveal the trick. If you don’t then only they will bother about trying it on their own.

          Then things should be extensible. e.g. If I tell them divisibility test for 99 using that logic they can deduce test for 101. They can go for 49,51 and so on. I thought lets tell them in a way that they feel like they are solving puzzles, recognizing patterns. It looked to work upto a certain extent.

         Now a little about the reaction itself. Most of the attendants loved it(at least that’s what they told me later). There were few dips here and there but overall it was fantastic on technical aspects – kudos to Amey and Deeksha. Now the students – well they did listen with interest, some tried to ask questions, most of them took notes and amazed looks on their faces made the effort worth. On the minus side some of them looked as if we got a break from school lets sit in AC and enjoy quietly. But most satisfying thing was students cared for numbers. They looked willing to give it a try to do what Tammet did. They don’t really fear Maths or numbers as Indian media so often portraits it is just their textbooks don’t invite them to play. That was the best outcome, if young fellas like them keep playing who knows what they will do in future.

I’ve shared the presentation on Slideshare -> Magic of Numbers

        I won’t call it a very polished presentation nor it is professional. For grown-ups like me you can play guessing characters since it has some references from pop culture e.g. Goku screaming formulaaa, I so wanted to add a kamehameha sound effect but then feared that I will be thrown out of lecture hall. Comments, suggestions are always welcome. I strongly recommend though not using this presentation directly since it has lots of stuff not written I slides which I talked as supplement. Finally feeling refreshed, blogged after a long time.



2 responses to “Playing with numbers

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