Saturday, March 5, 2016

Why I Love To Blog: Reason #2314 -- March 4, 2016


March 6, 2016: the article mentions Newton, MA, where a couple of Russian mothers with expertise in math started "Russian School." When our granddaughters lived in Belmont, they were about 5 minutes driving time from Newton, just across the river, if I recall correctly. The middle granddaughter was lucky enough to be a charter member of one of these Russian school start-ups. It was quite amazing how they were taught. I regret that she couldn't have continued after she moved to DFW.
Original Post
2:30 p.m. Central Time: Earlier today, at a stand-alone post I had a note on math, which I will re-post below as the "original post" here.

Less than four hours later when I went to get the mail, I see this article in this month's issue of The Atlantic: The Math Revolution. The number of American teens who excel at advanced math has surged. Why? The article begins:
On a sultry evening last July, a tall, soft-spoken 17-year-old named David Stoner and nearly 600 other math whizzes from all over the world sat huddled in small groups around wicker bistro tables, talking in low voices and obsessively refreshing the browsers on their laptops. The air in the cavernous lobby of the Lotus Hotel Pang Suan Kaew in Chiang Mai, Thailand, was humid, recalls Stoner, whose light South Carolina accent warms his carefully chosen words. The tension in the room made it seem especially heavy, like the atmosphere at a high-stakes poker tournament.
Stoner and five teammates were representing the United States in the 56th International Mathematical Olympiad. They figured they’d done pretty well over the two days of competition. God knows, they’d trained hard. Stoner, like his teammates, had endured a grueling regime for more than a year—practicing tricky problems over breakfast before school and taking on more problems late into the evening after he completed the homework for his college-level math classes. Sometimes, he sketched out proofs on the large dry-erase board his dad had installed in his bedroom. Most nights, he put himself to sleep reading books like New Problems in Euclidean Geometry and An Introduction to Diophantine Equations.
Still, it was hard to know how his team had stacked up against those from the perennial powers China, Russia, and South Korea. “I mean, the gold? Did we do well enough to get the gold?” he said. “At that moment, it was hard to say.” Suddenly, there was a shout from a team across the lobby, then a collective intake of breath as the Olympians surged closer to their laptops. As Stoner tried to absorb what he saw on his own computer screen, the noise level in the lobby grew from a buzz to a cheer. Then one of his team members gave a whoop that ended in the chant “U.S.A.! U.S.A.!,” and the smattering of applause from the other Olympians grew more robust, and finally thunderous. Beaming, one of Stoner’s teammates pulled a small American flag out of his backpack and began waving it. Stoner was grinning. For the first time in 21 years, the United States team had won first place. Speaking last fall from his dorm at Harvard, where he is now a freshman, Stoner recalled his team’s triumph with quiet satisfaction. “It was a really great moment. Really great. Especially if you love math.”
This is a great article. A must-read. 
Original Post

There were two somewhat related articles -- they both had to do with math and that was about it -- in the WSJ today that caught my eye. Calculus has always fascinated me, mostly because I never understood it while taking the subject in my freshman year in college. The subject has always bothered me and every few years I get back into my calculus phase and read books about it, and re-study Calculus 101.

I've come to the conclusion that calculus is a tool like trigonometry, and that in today's world one needs to know how / why trigonometry / calculus work and what they are good for, but in general, not more than one semester is needed to provide students the basics, except for those planning to devote their lives to theoretical math. I don't know how a refrigerator works and I don't know how my MacBook Air works, but as tools they are incredibly nice to have and easy to use.

I finally "get" calculus -- the epiphany occurred some years ago. I can't do much calculus but I "get" it. I understand why it was invented, what it is good for, and why it's indispensable. I never took trig in high school or college; I learned it on my own -- although I learned very little. But I learned enough to get me through calculus 101 in college.

Today, in the WSJ, in the op-ed pages of all things, there is this: calculus is so last century. Training in statistics, linear algebra and algorithmic thinking is more relevant for today’s educated workforce.
Can you remember the last time you did calculus? Unless you are a researcher or engineer, chances are good it was in a high-school or college class you’d rather forget.
For most Americans, solving a calculus problem is not a skill they need to perform well at work.
This is not to say that America’s workforce doesn’t need advanced mathematics—quite the opposite. An extensive 2011 McKinsey Global Institute study found that by 2018 the U.S will face a 1.5 million worker shortfall in analysts and managers who have the mathematical training necessary to deal with analysis of “large data sets,” the bread and butter of the big-data revolution ("quants").
The question is not whether advanced mathematics is needed but rather what kind of advanced mathematics. Calculus is the handmaiden of physics; it was invented by Newton to explain planetary and projectile motion. While its place at the core of math education may have made sense for Cold War adversaries engaged in a missile and space race, Minute-Man and Apollo no longer occupy the same prominent role in national security and continued prosperity that they once did.
The second article was in the "B" section.  Are You Smarter Than a Quant? A "quant" is a quantitative analyst.

The WSJ: posted five (5) questions from the recent MoMath Masters Contest. The 2016 MoMath Masters competition included questions about quadrilaterals, supermodels and Fermat's Sandwich Theorem.  Here's one question:
Let "m" be the smallest integer such that m^2 +7M +89 is divisible by 77. What is M?
a) 8 b) 18 c) 52 d) 73 e) 74.
That gives you an idea of the type of math questions the contest asked.

But this is what caught me eye, this question: who among the following received a scholarship to study Chemical Engineering with Mathematics at Northwestern University:
a) Heidi Klum
b) Kate Moss
c) Brooke Shields
d) Naomi Campbell
e) Cindy Crawford
And with that, I will move on to the Bakken, the top stories of the past week.

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