Thursday, April 05, 2012

A Gathering of Mathematical Proportions

Erik and I just returned from an amazing experience...the "Gathering for Gardner". This reclusive gathering joins an ecclectic group of mathematicians, scientists, artists, magicians, and puzzlers. As diverse as this group may seem, they all share one common interest: recreational mathematics.

The gathering is a tribute to the work of Martin Gardner, a prolific author and longtime contributor to Scientific American magazine. Gardner is widely regarded as the father of recreational mathematics in the U.S. While he died two years ago, G4G carries on in hopes of furthering his life's work.

But what is "recreational mathematics" you might ask? If you've ever played Tetris, tangrams, Sudoku, origami, or Rubik's Cube, you've stumbled into recreational mathematics. For most Americans, the mere mention of "mathematics" causes eyes to roll and minds to shut. That probably goes back to some bad experience with math as a child - and that's a real shame! While some people may question the applicability of calculus in their everyday lives, there's no denying that math is all around us.

Scott Kim, a talented artist and mathematician, gave an impactful presentation on the need for puzzles in schools. As a father of a middleschool age son, he conveyed his frustration in how math was being taught to his son. His primary complaint? Teaching the theory of math without the meaning. He gave a great example of teaching a child to read music notes, but not actually playing or listening to music. Or better yet, showing an athlete the X's and O's on a whiteboard, but not really playing the game. All theory and no application. His assertion is that puzzles, in all their forms, apply meaning to math.

What a great revelation! What kind of impact could this thinking make on young learners? Perhaps our fear of math could be alleviated if we focused more on the hands-on meaning instead of the hard-to-grasp theory.

This was but a small piece of what was shared at the Gathering for Gardner. Unfortunately, not everyone can attend a G4G. The good news is that a little bit of G4G is coming to YOU!

Every October 21st (Martin Gardner's birthday), "Celebration of Mind" events are held throughout the world. We're thrilled to report that Fat Brain Toys will be hosting our own Celebration of Mind...both here in Omaha, Nebraska as well as a virtual celebration online at While we're still in the planning phase, we've already got some exciting events in mind. We'll provide additional details as we get closer to the event date.

But until that time, continue to break down barriers by celebrating the fascinating angles of math (pun fully intended). In addition to our industry-leading collection of brainteasers, Fat Brain Toys has a number of items that make math fun. Here are a few ideas:

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