Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Making Math Cool with Ms R's Class

Today's guest post is courtesy of author Gillian O'Reilly, author of The Great Number Rumble and Slangalicious.

This is Pascal's Triangle, created by the amazing Grade 3/4 students in Nancy Rawlinson's class at Davisville Public School in Toronto:


Pascal's Triangle is pretty cool. Each number in the triangle is made from adding the two numbers above it, but the intriguing aspect is all the other patterns that you can find: regular ordinal numbers (1, 2, 3, 4...); triangle numbers (1, 3, 6, 10, 15...); multiples of 11; powers of 2 and even Fibonacci numbers.

Nancy Rawlinson was one of the people who advised Cora Lee and me when we were writing The Great Number Rumble: A Story of Math in Surprising Places (where you can read more about Pascal's Triangle). I love hearing about all the wonderful ways she teaches math to her students and shows them that there is math all around us. When she taught Grade 6, one of her skeptical students finally admitted three-quarters of the way through the year, "I give up. Math IS everywhere!"

Ms Rawlinson's students created all the elements of the triangle and posted questions around it based on the 5 Ws: Who, What, Why, When and Where. It's on the bulletin board outside their class for all the school to see.
Answering all these questions gave even the less enthusiastic math students an avenue into some of the cooler parts of math. And I have to admit that, as a kid myself, it was the weird and cool bits of math that I always remembered best.

Ms Rawlinson says her students loved the idea of growing patterns and they loved hearing the history of Pascal's Triangle. They also were intrigued by the idea that things can be named after people who didn't really discover them. While Blaise Pascal gave his name to it, the idea of the triangle first began with Chinese mathematicians, was further developed by Indian and then Arab scholars and then brought to Europe. Even though a number of European mathematicians were working on it, Pascal took the credit.

Next up on Ms Rawlinson's class calendar is Fibonacci numbers, named after the Italian mathematician who also brought the concept of zero to Europe. Were Fibonacci numbers actually discovered by Leonardo Fibonacci? Ms Rawlinson's class can tell you the answer!

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