Teaching Gifted & Talented Students in Hong Kong

This past month I taught a course, "Paradoxes & Infinities," in Hong Kong through the Center for Talented Youth, a gifted & talented program through Johns Hopkins University.

DSCN4291My lasting impression, a few days after completion, is that there still are some great ways to teach advanced math to advanced students. The organization and the logistics of the program itself had some some issues; but these were not negative enough to mollify my experience.

The course is an intensive three week program. The curriculum is math and logic based with paradoxes as the connective tissue. In order to discuss many paradoxes one needs to have a basic understanding of set theory (Russell's paradox), probability (Monty Hall paradox) and sequences (Achilles & the Tortoise) with some other topics sprinkled in. We also studied cardinality, symbolic logic, game theory, combinatorial games and the structure of the real numbers. Each day I, or my TA Raymond, would present brain teasers and puzzles. The combination of all these topics and activities lead to lots of fun but was, at times, a bit overwhelming. read more

A Visit to a High School Calculus Class

It's funny what high school students notice. I paid a visit to a high school calculus class and gave two lectures about applied math. Both lectures were variants of a typical themes; what is mathematics and how is it used in today's society. The talk was very visual and used two mathematical ideas, network theory and optimization, to motivate the study and beauty of mathematics.

I began the talk by asking them to consider the following picture from a children's book. elephant_waterI borrowed this from a talk given by Timothy Gowers on "The Importance of Mathematics." The students very quickly realize the water spouting from the lazy elephant is not obeying Newton's law of gravity. From here I go into a short bit on mathematical modeling. I ask them what they know about bacteria and I receive a typical answer; bacteria grows exponentially. We look at the graph and they realize, through a verbal discussion, that \displaystyle{\lim_{\rightarrow \infty}}e^x = \infty. From here the students understand the exponential growth model needs to be refined. We end with the graph of the logistic equation. read more