Monthly Archives: March 2010

Fibonacci and Our Number System

I just started reading “The Unfinished Game” by Keith Devlin which documents a correspondence between Fermat and Pascal that literally changed the course of mathematics and even, some would argue, of history in general. The correspondence laid the foundations for probability theory.

What I just learned was something I’d never heard before:

“The modern, so-called Hindu-Arabic number system, developed in India between 200 and 700 A.D., was the first truly efficient way to record and compute with numbers, though the system was not available in the West until Leonardo of Lisa (whom later historians dubbed ‘Fibonacci’) learned it from North African traders and described it in his book Liber abaci (The Book of Calculating), which first appeared in 1202. ”

Fibonacci! What a guy!

My Prezi at ICTCM

I went out on a limb today.  During my talk that I presented at the ICTCM 2010 conference in Chicago, instead of using a more traditional media supplement to my talk (such as overhead, powerpoint or PDFs), I used Prezi.  Some of you may have heard of it, but most of you probably haven’t.

I discovered it the same way I discover most emerging technologies.  I was listening to TWIT and heard them refer to a tool that they assumed everyone had heard about and everyone was using.  So, as a joiner, I had to run out at play with it.  It certainly was intriguing but a bit flashy for me.  It ranked up there with animations and sound affects in Powerpoint (proper use is rarely or never).

What is Prezi? 

At it’s simplest, it is a zooming presentation editor.  Instead of emphasis on components of your presentation being controlled by slides or by bulleted lists, you emphasize with size and zooming.  There is a good video explanation at

I’m still not sold on it but the attendees of my talk seemed to enjoy it.  One thing I really enjoyed is that is was easy to use and it certainly served as a great “canvas” to map out my talk before I even knew how I was going to structure it.

I have embedded the presentation below if you would like to take a look.  If you can’t see it, visit

Title of Talk: Developing Online Video Lectures for Online and Hybrid Algebra Courses

Short Description: An approach to deploy a comprehensive lecture video series for Intermediate and College Algebra is presented. This specific approach utilizing tablet technology combined with software for screen recording and for journaling was designed to obtain small video size for relatively low bandwidth online access.


The Prezi:

Book Recommendation: The Housekeeper and the Professor

image A couple of weeks ago, I finished reading a book that had been recommend in an article I was reading at the MAA website (Mathematical Association of America).  The book was called “The Housekeeper and the Professor” by Yoko Ogawa.

I highly recommend this book as a quick read.  It’s a heartwarming tale that wraps a love of mathematics and a touch of number theory into its narrative.

In this story, an  interesting malady has befallen one of the main characters, referred to throughout as the “professor”.  The story is told by a housekeeper who has come into the employ of the professor through his sister-in-law.  We learn very early on that the professor was involved in a car accident that left him with the ability to only remember that last 80 minutes.

If you’ve seen “50 First Dates” starring Drew Barrymore and Adam Sandler then you’re familiar with this condition, at least as a premise for an interesting tale, and you’re familiar with “10 second Tom”.  To deal with his illness, the professor has taken to pinning important information to his clothing such as the condition that plagues him, the identity of the new housekeeper and her son, and many other day-to-day items.

What is most interesting about the book is how the author ties the professor’s love of numbers and mathematics into his interactions with people he never remembers having met.  The charming tale is built on the ability of the professor to continue his work as a mathematician by solving puzzles published in mathematics journals and how he interacts with the housekeeper and her young son through a common love of Japanese baseball.

Again, I would highly recommend this book for anyone with the even smallest love for mathematics or, perhaps, a mathematician. The only complaint that I have for this book is one that only makes it better for many of the readers of this blog.  The mathematics while intriguing and well explained doesn’t get too deep.  I’m no number theorist but this book inspires me to learn more about the field because the topics dealt with in this book left me wanting more.

ICTCM 2010: Twitter to the Rescue

Thank you Twitter! 

More specifically, I’m grateful to one of the co-chairs of the ICTCM conference for watching twitter and seeing my lament that I would not be able to attend the conference this year because I didn’t have the travel funds.


On February 11th, I posted:

Still trying to decide if ICTCM is in the cards for me this year. I’m short a couple hundred on travel funds. Bummer.

On February 15th, I received a reply from the co-chair of the conference:

@SplineGuy D option for ICTCM: volunteer 4 hrs get $100 off reg fee, or 8 hrs for free reg. interested, send me DM w email add. I’m co-chair

After a few back-and-forths, I was registered for the conference with fees paid and an accepted abstract for a short talk. I’m very excited to be going. As I said last time I attended ICTCM, I belong at ICTCM!

On Thursday, I’m flying out from Lubbock before 6 AM and arriving in Chicago mid-morning.  That’s a little early for check-in but I’m okay with that.  I’ll nap in their lobby if I have to.  I’m heading back home on Saturday evening.  I’m also looking forward to a tweetup in the hotel lobby on Friday evening around 8:00 PM.  Any tweeps that will be around should come on by. (#ICTCM)

My short talk for ICTCM this year will take place on Friday, March 12 at 10:30 AM.  The short description and abstract that were submitted and accepted are below:

Short Description:

An approach to deploy a comprehensive lecture video series for Intermediate and College Algebra is presented. This specific approach utilizing tablet technology combined with software for screen recording and for journaling was designed to obtain small video size for relatively low bandwidth online access.


In this paper, an approach to deploy a comprehensive lecture video series for Intermediate and College Algebra is presented. The tools employed include Camtastia Studio® for screen recording, video editing and encoding, as well as Microsoft OneNote® with a Wacom Graphire® Tablet for screen writing and lecture note development. An alternative approach providing similar results that uses freeware and open-source software is also described. Extensive testing was done in order to optimize the video encoding, keeping the size of the videos at a minimum. These videos were launched as part of two online algebra courses at Wayland. These techniques have also served to facilitate the development of hybrid courses and to supplement traditional courses. This approach can be easily adapted to most mathematics courses and in the days of “Snowpocalypse” and the H1N1 pandemic, it can serve as a backup when traditional course content may need to be provided online.

Student Writing in Differential Equations

image As part of the group project that was assigned in my Differential Equations course, students were required to write a project report.  I just wanted to post quickly today that I am significantly impressed with the performance of these students on the assignment provided. 

In preparation for the writing portion of the project, I required the students to read a short essay by Dr. Kevin P. Lee at Purdue University.  I spent almost an entire class going over such important principles as:

  • Follow the basic rules of grammar, including the use of expressions and equations.
  • Use symbolic notation appropriately.
  • Organize your paper.
  • Define all variables and formulas.
  • Make sure that the paper is readable aloud.
  • Use appropriate figures that effectively explain the mathematics.

As I was giving this lecture, I began to realize that I missed out on this kind of instruction at an undergraduate level.  In fact, most of my experience in mathematical writing came only through experience both from reading many, many papers but also from getting my work critiqued by fellow grad students and my graduate instructors.  There was never a time that I was given such specific instructions such as the use of “=” in an equation as a verb.  Or that the paper should be readable aloud even with all the mathematical expressions.

I think I even commented out loud during my lecture that I was jealous of them getting to see this as an undergraduate.  I have assigned writing in many of my classes over the years, particularly in Math Models (a projects course at Wayland).  However, I’ve never spent this much time on instruction on how to write. We also covered the use of the new equation editor available in Word® 2007.  I’m convinced now that it has been worth they time.

In addition to the increased focus on writing in class, I also decided on some effective motivation for the groups.  I made it clear that I didn’t believe that they could produce a quality paper on the first try, since for most of them, this will their first attempt at a mathematics paper. (Can you say reverse psychology?)  I told them I would expect to completely butcher their paper and hand it back for them do over (and over and over, until they got it right). 

However, as a proper incentive I also told them that in the extremely unlikely scenario that one of the groups turns in a “perfect” paper, they could receive a free pass on one of the courses exams.  In other words, they would be allowed to drop the lowest exam grade for the semester.

Honestly, I didn’t expect to have to give out the award, but after a first read on each of their reports, at least one group has a reasonable chance.  I did give them a checklist (provided at the end of Dr. Lee’s essay with a couple of modifications) and I’ll be checking very closely.  Once I’ve finished graded, I intend on posting their papers here on my blog to see what you guys think.