Happy Holidays!

Saw this on Facebook this morning, and since we just finished a unit on logarithms yesterday, I figured I had to try it myself. Gave this as a warm-up activity to my Algebra 2 class today:

Challenge of the Day for Tuesday, December 23rd, 2014.

Challenge of the Day for Tuesday, December 23rd, 2014.

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Art Integration: Roots of Unity & String Art

I talked with an art teacher this afternoon about ways to integrate art and math into a project. She had some great ideas, plus we came up with more ideas in the course of our discussion, many of which I plan to try for Algebra 2 or Precalculus (both which I teach this year, fall and spring respectively). Geeking out while discussing the intersection of math and art reminded me of this awesome collaboration and its result from a few years ago!

Our first idea (in terms of implementing soon) was some colorful string art crossed with a discussion of the roots of unity, since my students are (today) using and graphing complex numbers for the first time. Math teachers, art teachers, and any interested others, check out this rough draft of the project and let me know any thoughts and advice:

Roots of Unity Project


Colorful "string" art on the 17 th roots of unity

Colorful “string” art on the 17 th roots of unity

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Teamwork: The POE House

This was an assignment I just wrote for a course I’m taking: to describe a day in my classroom from a journalistic third-person perspective. I figured I’d post it here as well. This is a slightly-fictionalized version of what occurred in my Principles of Engineering class on and around March 25th, 2014.

POE House Lighting

POE House Lighting

Upon walking into Nick Yates’s engineering classroom at Patterson High School in east Baltimore, the first thing one notices is students gathered together working on a project at the center of the room. Walking closer, the project reveals itself to be a large structure, roughly eight cubic feet, which the students explain is a model house. Each wall has a different truss design, built out of coffee stirrers that form triangles that fit together into a square wall, two feet on a side. The students are collaborating in teams, each team responsible today for lighting up a wall of the house.

The students are a diverse group. Six countries of origin are represented here in this one room: United States, Nepal, Mexico, Congo, Nigeria, and China. Among students born in the US, the majority are black, but some are white and some are Latino. Boys outnumber the girls in this engineering class, as they do in the engineering field, but the girls tell of after-school mentoring programs and field trips that have helped encourage them to stick with their engineering classes and to pursue a STEM career.

As one boy positions a light emitting diode (LED) on the wall, his partner pulls off electrical tape and hands it to him to secure it in position. Another partner reads off of a circuit diagram in her engineering notebook, where they have designed the electrical circuit, instructing her teammates how to connect the wires in between LEDs. And the fourth team member is using alligator clips to join three solar panels together to make this wall’s lights powered by environmentally sustainable source.

After a while, the team steps back to admire their handiwork. They bring over a lamp to simulate the Sun’s rays hitting the solar panels, and flip the light switch to on. But the LEDs do not light up. They are daunted for just a moment, but soon start troubleshooting the problem to try and fix their electrical system. One student suggests they check all the wire connections, to make sure they are all twisted together properly, and two members of the team immediately start to do that. Another suggests getting a multimeter to check if the solar panels are even generating electricity. As others check every place where two wires meet manually, she goes to get a multimeter from the teacher’s desk. She asks one of her partners to hold the multimeter’s leads to the wires while she operates the device. Each solar panel is reading about 1.83 volts of electricity, but the lights are still not lit. Another team member suggests checking the plan, to make sure the solar panels are wired in series so that their voltages add up. The team consults their notebooks, verifying that their actual work reflects their design; it does. Some of the team is beginning to lose hope, and one suggests calling the teacher over for help. But one student, remembering the time he held an LED to a nine-volt battery too long and the bulb blew out, suggests making sure each LED is working. His teammate asks how they should test the LEDs, perhaps by holding each one to a battery to see if it lights up? He grumbles a little about this, thinking of all the work they had just done to tie the LEDs together with wires into a circuit, only to have to undo it all. But at this point the girl with the multimeter steps in, saying they could use the multimeter to figure out which if any bulb was dead. The team works together and finds they did have a non-working LED. They replace it with a new one, and the lights come on. Success!

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White House Science Fair

At the White House

Lunch at the White House. Image © Iragena Serge Bangamwabo

As I mentioned in my last post, five of our students were invited to the White House Science Fair.

Here are a few news articles about them:

In front of their display board

In front of their display board, inside the White House. Image © Iragena Serge Bangamwabo


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White House Science Fair Today

Tune in to the White House Science Fair if you get the chance today: http://www.whitehouse.gov/science-fair

Five of my students will be there, showcasing their Solar-Powered Toy Hovercraft that they designed and created last year. Their project won first place in the Constellation Energy Challenge last spring, which was a collaboration between NFTE (Network For Teaching Entrepreneurship) and Maryland MESA (Math, Engineering, and Science Achievement), to have students design a product using alternative energy, engineer a working prototype of that product, and create a business plan for marketing the product to consumers. Thanks and credit also go to my amazing colleague who also advised them, and to two Morgan State University engineering students who mentored the team on their project.

A video of an early prototype (not yet using solar energy) can be found here.

The students did an amazing job with both their project and their presentation of it to a panel of judges last May, and received a special invitation earlier this month to be a part of President Obama’s annual White House Science Fair.

In addition to this invitation to the White House being tribute to the creativity, talent, and teamwork of the specific students, I think this team of five students, born in five different countries, also represents the great potential of my school’s (and America’s) diversity to create learning experiences and spark innovation. As well as providing a counter-narrative to the usual news of only bad things happening in Baltimore City Schools.

Wish them luck, and watch along!


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BWI Airport

Very awesome trip last week. The Baltimore chapter of the Women’s Transportation Seminar (WTS) took the students who have been participating all year in WTS’s Transportation You mentoring program to the airport!

BWI Airport

Transportation You is all about increasing the number of girls interested in transportation, engineering, and other STEM careers. At Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI) we learned about aviation, the infrastructure of the airport itself, and some of the jobs performed by women in those areas.

Introductions at BWI

Introductions at BWI

Of course, I knew it was going to be a great trip when we walked in and saw all these trusses in the ceiling!

Trusses Trusses Everywhere!

Trusses Trusses Everywhere!

Among many interesting parts of the visit, they took us up to the Operations Control room.

The Operations Control Center!

The Operations Control Center!

And then out onto the roof!

View from the Roof of BWI

View from the Roof of BWI

A fun day it was!

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Pi Day 2014

Once again, Pi Day has arrived!

As you probably know, pi (π) is a mathematical constant found in circles and throughout mathematics! Since pi’s decimal expansion starts off 3.14…, and today’s date is 3/14, we celebrate pi and all things mathematical on this day!

3.141592653589793238462643383279..., to be a bit more precise! Image copyright David Reimannn, found here

3.141592653589793238462643383279…, to be a bit more precise! Image copyright David Reimannn, found here

My Top Pi Ways to Celebrate Pi Day

1. Share pi (and pie) with friends
2. Read and learn more about pi
3. Contemplate the wonder of the universe and mathematics’ role within it
.14159…. Shout “Happy Pi Day!” and/or “Happy Pi Moment” at the top of your lungs when the appropriate time occurs

Art from pi's digits, copyright Martin Krzywinski

Art from pi’s digits, copyright Martin Krzywinski

Pieces of Pi

Related to #1 and #2 above, here are a few cool tidbits about pi and pi day:

Pi Past

I cannot believe it’s been 10 years since my first pi day expansive email that set up (or continued) a crazy propaganda war between the mathematical constants pi and e. (Going back even further, by my count I’ve been celebrating pi day in some form or another for almost 18 years now!) Just about each year since 2004 I have sent out my annual missive on Pi Day, by email and/or by blog (a few years when March was especially busy for me, I sent out messages on other pi-related days). A list can be found in yesterday’s pre-pi-day post here.

Have a great Pi Day today, and many more!


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