This video gives an overview of the Global Math Project and its roll-out topic for the inaugural Global Math Week, 2017. We ask cofounder, James Tanton, some questions about their bold and audacious plan.
Why did you found the Global Math project?
The Global Math Project was founded by a team of seven: Jill Diniz, Director of Mathematics Curriculum, Great Minds; Cindy Lawrence, Executive Director, National Museum of Mathematics; Brianna Donaldson, Director of Special Projects, American Institute of Mathematics; Derarca Lynch, Mathematics Instructor, New York University – Abu Dhabi; Raj Shah, Founder and CEO, Math Plus Academy; Travis Sperry, Director of Information Technology, Math Plus Academy; and myself. It all stemmed from a question Jill asked that went something like this: “Hey, James. Have you heard of an Hour of Code? We should have something like that for math! And it should be Exploding Dots.” And she was right … we should have something like that for math. Therefore, it should indeed start with Exploding Dots.
We talked about it and we brainstormed a tad and, well, a fabulous team of seven formed. Each member of the team has the same bold (and not so secret) dream of creating a fundamental paradigm shift as to how the world perceives and enjoys mathematics.
As a team, we wanted fundamental honesty in this shared dream. The mathematics each and every person on this planet experiences is school mathematics. Furthermore, let’s reveal how the common mathematics we all encounter can serve as poetry to the soul, as a portal to creativity, meaning, relevance, and wonder, and can be at the heart of a shared, joyous, human experience. The team has the expertise, we believe this as true, and we have the audacity to try to make this happen!
How will you measure success?
Our inaugural Global Math Week (GMW) commences October 10, 2017 (Can you guess why we chose a palindromic date?).
Our roll-out mathematical topic for that week will be EXPLODING DOTS. (You can see Tanton’s early web-course on this at http://gdaymath.com/courses/exploding-dots/.) This topic is consistently described as a “mind blowing” story of mathematics, a story that weaves from K to 12 and beyond.
We will offer the entire Exploding Dots curriculum—along with videos, texts, teaching guides, interactive web apps—completely freely during Global Math Week, and in perpetuity beyond, and the goal of GMW is for 1 million students have a first experience on the topic of Exploding Dots sometime during that week.
We ask teachers, math circle leaders and math club leaders to sign up on our registration page. They learn about Exploding Dots, and commit to sharing a beginning lesson with their students. Also, they talk about the experience on a special social media platform. It is through these educators and math leaders we hope to reach one millions students.
So our first measure of success: Do the numbers teachers report add up to one million? Are there hundreds of thousands of hits on our Exploding Dots web app along with reports of thousands of face-to-face classroom equivalent experiences? Do we see hundreds of thousands of FaceBook messages and tweets during the week? Do post-week surveys indicate joyous affect?
We have a number of organizations watching our program. If we reach our goal we are in good stead to do it all again in 2018. This time with a brand new topic, and again in 2019, and so on.
How did you come to create the “Exploding Dots” story?
My personal mission as a high school teacher was to find within the curriculum the story—the human, mathematical story—that weaves through the entire K-12 content. It is easy for us teachers to get locked into a horizontal slice of the K-12 experience. Therefore, forgetting that students are moving orthogonality through our various slices.
I’ve always had in my mind the visual potency of an abacus for understanding place value and workings of arithmetic algorithms. Also, as a mathematician, I was aware of the field of “chip firing” and how an abacas can be seen as a simple example of a chip-firing dynamic. It wasn’t until I attended a talk by my colleague Dr. James Propp who spoke of the unsolved mathematics of a “2 ←3 machine” that I realized there was profound mathematical depth lurking within the abacus/chip-firing game. It was then I really started to mull and, as I did, more and more mathematical structure unveiled itself. The simple storyline of place value and arithmetic suddenly turned into a continuing storyline of high school polynomial algebra, some infinite series, and so much more.
The “mind blowing” experience of Exploding Dots came into being!
How do you hope to convince the large numbers of teachers, students, and families who do not see themselves as “math people” to appreciate the joy of mathematics?
This is a tricky question. It is very easy to equate familiarity with understanding. Since many of the standard arithmetic algorithms, for example, are so very familiar, we feel we understand them. It is hard to separate ourselves from the familiar to see how bizarre many of the things we teach truly are! (This is also tricky for parents: they expect to see the familiar in their children’s mathematics learning, and if we teachers deviate from the “norm” to try to attend to understanding, it can be very unsettling and disquieting.)
Here is what I love about Exploding Dots. It starts from the very beginning. It assumes no previous mathematics. Therefore, with such ease and delight it leads the follower to the familiar. Though, in a more gentle context that has deep understanding at its core. The story then bounces off of that deep understanding to suddenly propel the user into advanced mathematics. As a result, the math seems scary at first, until the realization suddenly hits home that it is all the same ideas all over again. A sense of profound personal mastery sets in.
So to answer the question, “How do we convince a large number of people to appreciate the joy of mathematics?” we simply let the mathematics speak for itself!
(To see how we can joyfully go from the beginning of mathematics to advanced polynomial division and infinite series, watch this video of a talk given at Scottsdale Community College: https://vimeo.com/204368634 . It is the same lecture I conduct with college professors, with teachers, with administrators, and even with parents.)
Where do we learn more about the Global Math Project? How can folks get involved?
Our website is www.theglobalmathproject.org. The registration page to sign up for Global Math Week will be available there too when it is ready (mid-April). One can also sign as an official Ambassador of the Global Math Project and help us spread the word about the program. In addition, help invite local teachers to take part in Global Math Week.
Let’s together bring joyous, uplifting mathematics to one million students during the week of 10.10.2017! Come join the team!
James Tanton (PhD, Mathematics, Princeton 1994) is committed to sharing the delight and beauty of the subject. In 2004 James founded the St. Mark’s Institute of Mathematics, an outreach program promoting joyful and effective mathematics education. He worked as a fulltime high-school teacher at St. Mark’s School in Southborough, MA (2004-2012), and he conducted, and continues to conduct, mathematics courses and workshops for mathematics teachers across the nation and overseas.
James is the author of Solve This: Math Activities for Students and Clubs (MAA, 2001), The Encyclopedia of Mathematics (Facts on File, 2005), Mathematics Galore! (MAA, 2012) and twelve self-published texts. He is the 2005 recipient of the Beckenbach Book Prize, the 2006 recipient of the Kidder Faculty Prize at St. Mark’s School, and a 2010 recipient of a Raytheon Math Hero Award for excellence in school teaching.
He also publishes research and expository articles, and through his extracurricular research classes for students has helped high school students pursue research project and publish their results. James is currently an ambassador for the Mathematical Association of America and Advisory Council Chair of the National Museum of Mathematics in New York.
James is married to Lindy Elkins-Tanton, a planetary scientist with expertise in planet formation and evolution and Director of the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University. He is absolutely adoring his life with her and they are very much fascinated by the flora and fauna of Arizona. Their backyard is full of all sorts of birds and critters, with the occasional visits of coyotes, road runners, and bob cats too. They still have a little vacation home in the hills of Massachusetts, and enjoy visiting there too whenever they can. They very much enjoy exploring nature.
When not working on a space mission or on mathematics (or both), James and Lindy love to cook, play silly games, watch both good and bad TV, and host dessert and wine evenings with friends.