Creative Wallpaper?

Saturday Jan. 15th 2011 will mark the 161st birthday of Sofia Kovalevskaya.  While many of you may not recognize the name, Sofia is considered the greatest female mathematician, pre-20th Century.  And, like many of my students, you may be wondering how one “grows” into such a great mathematician.  It turns out that, in Sofia’s case, it takes some good interior design.

Like the “dream child” of any parent, Sofia had an early interest in math (thanks in part to her uncle.)  However, it wasn’t until the age of 11 that this interest really took off.  It was at this age that her family decided to decorate the walls of her bedroom with the lecture notes from a course in differential and integral calculus that her father had taken years earlier.  By staring at the wallpaper and getting lost in the beautiful equations, Sofia was able to make connections between it and the things that her uncle had told her.  The wallpaper offered her a portal into the world of calculus!

According to her autobiography, “The meaning of these concepts I naturally could not yet grasp, but they acted on my imagination, instilling in me a reverence for mathematics as an exalted and mysterious science which opens up to its initiates a new world of wonders, inaccessible to ordinary mortals.

Moral of the story:  teenagers everywhere, tear down those ridiculous “Glee” posters and put up those math notes!  You’ll be glad you did!


Take a couple of deep breaths … if you are still reading this, then the good news is that this statement hasn’t caused a heart attack.  So, let me clarify what I love about the test.  Simply put, it is those gorgeous math questions.  Trust me, rarely do you see such beautiful questions anywhere else.

Like most people in love, however, there is something about “my significant other” that I wish I could change.  Put simply, I hate the time constraints.  How can anyone explore the depth and beauty of these problems if they are only given a half-hour to enjoy them?  You are forced to view these problems as if you are waiting in a cafeteria line, quickly moving from soup, to salad, to the main course, to the drink machine … what a shame!  I remember the first time I took the test.  I only finished about half of the problems because there was so much I wanted to explore that I just ran out of time.  So sad!

So, if I hate the time constraints but love the problems, then how do I make sense of it all? Simple.  I use the questions in the classroom.  Lucky students, I know!  But, all kidding aside, by using these problems in the classroom, I have the time to show them the beauty that I see.  And, truth be told, most of my students start to see things in a similar light.  In fact, it is not uncommon for me to use a single problem as a starting point for an entire class lecture.  Some of the problems are just that good!

For those of you who will be “enjoying” the SAT in the near future, I have a great link for you to check out.  The College Board (the entity who writes the SAT and therefore controls your fate) has a SAT Problem of the Day website for you to enjoy.  While it alternates between math and reading questions (sorry about those reading questions), it is nevertheless good practice.  In addition to the Problem of the Day, you can also find some useful links on the left side of the screen, including Practice and Review in math, reading and writing as well as a full practice test.

Best of luck.

111,111,111 times 111,111,111 = ?

Any answers?  Any guesses?  Want a hint?  The answer is a Palindromic number – a number that is the same written forwards or backwards.  (For example, 12321  and 1432341 are Palindromic numbers.)

So, try it and see what you get.  Enjoy!