Thursday, August 8, 2013

Mathspotting (Because Math Hides In Plain Sight Like a Ninja)

One of the coolest things about doing math for a living is having a higher sensitivity to its presence in the world during day-to-day activities. For me, this seems to be particularly true right before the school year when my brain is constantly in planning mode. So I'm, like, on HIGH MATH ALERT.

I went to the beach with my dog yesterday morning, and noticed several sets of tire tracks in the sand. There are many different types of tire patterns, of course, but this particular set caught my eye (so I took a photo and tweeted it):

Of course, I'm not completely sure that these are exactly trig patterns, but... but... close enough, right? RIGHT?

In any case, it had me wondering about the application (if there actually is any) of periodic functions in designing certain types of tire treads. I don't really know anything about how tires are designed, so take it for what it's worth. But it's cool to think about; I mean, if I could legitimately tell a student that trigonometry is what keeps them from hydroplaning in a downpour, that would be awesome. I just don't know if that's actually true or not. *shrug*

In the evening, my wife and I were walking our dog and made a quick stop at the grocery store. As I was waiting outside with the dog, I found myself staring at this sign in front of me and wondering mathy things:

I actually look at signs like this and think about symmetry problems all the time. Like, probably an unhealthy amount. If you see me staring at a sign, chances are I'm probably thinking about symmetry. I try not to do it while driving.

Anyway, when I posted this on Twitter, one of the comments I got was: "What kind of symmetry? Even or odd?" Which is exactly the kind of question I was hoping to see. If I posed this problem to my students (and I may very well do that), I would love for this issue to arise. The "N"s certainly have odd symmetry, and I never did specify any particular type of symmetry. So, we'd have to include the "N"s in our answer, yes?

So those are just a couple of math nuggets that I spotted yesterday. Maybe I should post more mathy pictures on Twitter and start hashtagging them with #mathspotting or something. Feel free to join in!


  1. Good to know I'm not the only nerd who does this. Will def start using the #mathspotting, I think that's an awesome idea. As a side note, do you always tag your posts with "handsome math teacher" bc I'm wondering how many hits that accumulates for you

    1. Awesome! I would also love to get my students in on the action; if they see something that looks mathy, take a pic and tag it with #mathspotting. Maybe it could lead to some in-class discussion or student-created problems.

      And yes, every post is tagged with "handsome math teacher," and will continue to be as long as that remains an accurate description of me (which it will, FOREVER).

  2. Haha nice post! What a passionate teacher!

    Grade any free-response assessment online in minutes!