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^ The Point News December 8, 1998 Features Tanton and the math society reach new Math Horizons Under the guidance of Professor Tanton, the math club combines pizza with proofs DIANE DIXON focus editor Since arriving at SMC in the fall semester of 1995 James Tanton, professor of mathematics, has been running the St. Mary’s Math Society. He took the club, which was not in a good state of affairs, and made it into a popular club on campus which will soon be featured in the mathematical magazine, Math Horizons and perhaps a book, depending on the decision of the Mathematical Association of America (MAA). Currently the math club meets Tuesdays at noon. In past years meetings were held in the evenings, but Tanton found that it was hard to get students to commit to that time. “Now, with a longer, earlier time to meet, we have a reason for food. It’s nice to have a pizza, you know. It makes things fun,” he explained. According to Tanton, “over the years the club’s popularity has increased big time. We now have a regular staple of 1525 students, whereas before we only had five to ten.” Students who regularly attend meetings range from freshmen to seniors, and math majors to nonmath majors. Faculty members usually attend a£ well. At each meeting he prepares three or four activities for the students to work on, with each project connected to the others by a hidden mathematical theme. Whilertrying to figure out which style worked and which did not, he discovered that the projects have become a little more selfcontained. Though he observed that at most colleges math clubs aim most of their projects toward one topic and then do projects pertaining to that topic, he noticed that the idea did not work well here. “It’s not really interesting,” he explained. “I wanted something with instant appeal— something hands on and immediate so that anyone could come and get something out of the session, even if they couldn’t attend the next one.” For Tanton, the math club has surpassed his expectations with its success. “I feel privileged and fortunate. I think I’ve hit upon an approach that really seems to work—it affects people,” he said. Though the newfound popularity of the club is pleasing, what affects him the most “is what the people in the club take out of it. Hearing people talking about "I feel privileged and fortunate. I think I've hit upon an approach that really seems to work—it affects people." —James Tanton, Math Professor problems'from previous math clubs in years past is a real delight.” He believes that one of the reasons the club has been so successful is because the math department has been so encouraging. Most of the club’s funding comes from the math foundation, an account belonging to the department. “Having the funding come from the foundation means a lot to me and to the students who participate in the club,” he said. “I want to express my deep gratitude to [them] for supporting this club. I don’t think it would have survived if the folks here weren’t supportive of it,” he explained. The club has worked on several projects over the past three years, someof which students haveconsidered turning into St. Mary’s Projects. “It’s great,” Tanton exclaimed. “A lot of the problems are openended and are worthy of further research.” Senior math major James Taylor has been going to the club meetings on and off for the past few semesters, but this is the first semester where he has been able to attend every meeting. The club is something that he enjoys and looks forward to. He believes that “some people are afraid to show that they are enthusiastic in mathematics and [the club] is a place to go to do th a t. . . Professor Tanton makes it so easy to get involved, so it’s hard to go there and not do anything.” “I don’t know how much real math we do. We just investigate the way things go. Sometimes [Tanton] brings up stuff that he’s working on and we do it to see what happens. There’s nothing real intense,” said Taylor. Over the years Tanton has had several articles printed in various publications, including one entitled “A Dozen Questions About a Donut” in the November ’98 issue of Math Horizons. Another article of his will appear in the February issue of the magazine. Being that they like his writing style, Math Horizons asked Tanton if he had any other ideas for articles. He responded, “I run a math club and I would like to write about it,” so they chatted about the idea. According to Tanton, they had never heard of another institution doing anything like it and asked him to write the article.. The article, entitled “A Dozen Mathematical Activities to Try With Friends,” Thinking about studying overseas next semester (or next year)? It’s not too late. Costa Rica, India, Japan, China, England, Kenya, Israel ■ Immerse yourself in a new culture through homes tays, field trips and language training. ■ Experiential learning through an innovative academic curriculum of seminars, handson fieldwork, and independent research. ■ Be part of a Learning Community of students and faculty dedicated to global and socially responsible education. Qlobal Education for Social Change Friends World Program  Box E 239 Montauk Highway • Southampton, N.Y. 11968 fw@southampton.liunet.edu (516) 2878474 FRIENDS WORLD PROGRAM Lo n g Isiand includes 12 different problems with explanations on how to perform them. An example problem, called “Iterated Sharing,” involves the use o f Tootsie Rolls (you can eat them when y o u ’re fin ished). The candy is distributed in even numbers to people around a table. The amount that each person has is arbitrary. Allison Bradford attempts to subdivide a cube of tofu into 27 smaller cubes with six planar cuts, as Brian King and others look on. Then each person passes half of their candy to the person to their left. Each person then recounts their candy supply. If people end up with an odd number of pieces, they each take another piece of candy from the extra supply. The process is then repeated several times. The math club then examines the question of whether or not the amount of candy each person has will grow without bound. Another question with the problem arises when the students eat the odd pieces of candy in order to make their pile even again. If you’re interested in finding out the answer you can try it out for yourself or drop by a club meeting. The club has also raised the interest of the MAA. After hearing about the math club t'romMath H o r izo n s , they approached Tanton and asked him to write a book about the club. Essentially, the book will cover all of the activities that the club has done over the past three years. “It includes an explanation of how to carry out the projects,” Tanton explained. The book will function on many levels. Professors will be able to use it as an instruction booklet to form their own clubs. Students can read it to learn more about mathematics, since it will be written as a puzzle book in some p hoto courtesy of James Tanton ways. Teachers can find examples pertaining to a certain theme in order to enhance their class. Finally, he hopes that the book will appeal to a more general audience. “Anyone can understand the book,” he said. “No mathematical background is needed.” If you understand some calculus, you will get good reasons why things work, but Tanton will also include good intuitive explanations of the problems so that anyone can figure out the problems. Currently, he has written three perspective chapters which have been re viewed. The MAA has ex  p re ssed e x treme interest in publishing the book. They are going through the final committee process now “and things are looking g ood,” according to Tanton, “but nothing is guaranteed.” Taylor loves the ideas of the book and magazine article. “I try to help him out as much as I can with anything that he needs,” he said. He thinks that “the article is good for the school and good for the people involved in the club. It helps create an interest in mathematics.” He also believes that “the problems he is putting [in it] are things that anybody can sit down and read. It can almost be a coffee table book.” "Professor Tanton makes it so easy to get involved, so it's hard to go there and not do anything." —James Taylor; senior
Object Description
Title  Point News, 1998 December 8 
Date  19981208 
Year  1998 
Masthead  Point News 
Geographic Coverage  United States  Maryland  Saint Marys City 
Subject  St. Mary's College of Maryland  Newspapers 
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FullText  ^ The Point News December 8, 1998 Features Tanton and the math society reach new Math Horizons Under the guidance of Professor Tanton, the math club combines pizza with proofs DIANE DIXON focus editor Since arriving at SMC in the fall semester of 1995 James Tanton, professor of mathematics, has been running the St. Mary’s Math Society. He took the club, which was not in a good state of affairs, and made it into a popular club on campus which will soon be featured in the mathematical magazine, Math Horizons and perhaps a book, depending on the decision of the Mathematical Association of America (MAA). Currently the math club meets Tuesdays at noon. In past years meetings were held in the evenings, but Tanton found that it was hard to get students to commit to that time. “Now, with a longer, earlier time to meet, we have a reason for food. It’s nice to have a pizza, you know. It makes things fun,” he explained. According to Tanton, “over the years the club’s popularity has increased big time. We now have a regular staple of 1525 students, whereas before we only had five to ten.” Students who regularly attend meetings range from freshmen to seniors, and math majors to nonmath majors. Faculty members usually attend a£ well. At each meeting he prepares three or four activities for the students to work on, with each project connected to the others by a hidden mathematical theme. Whilertrying to figure out which style worked and which did not, he discovered that the projects have become a little more selfcontained. Though he observed that at most colleges math clubs aim most of their projects toward one topic and then do projects pertaining to that topic, he noticed that the idea did not work well here. “It’s not really interesting,” he explained. “I wanted something with instant appeal— something hands on and immediate so that anyone could come and get something out of the session, even if they couldn’t attend the next one.” For Tanton, the math club has surpassed his expectations with its success. “I feel privileged and fortunate. I think I’ve hit upon an approach that really seems to work—it affects people,” he said. Though the newfound popularity of the club is pleasing, what affects him the most “is what the people in the club take out of it. Hearing people talking about "I feel privileged and fortunate. I think I've hit upon an approach that really seems to work—it affects people." —James Tanton, Math Professor problems'from previous math clubs in years past is a real delight.” He believes that one of the reasons the club has been so successful is because the math department has been so encouraging. Most of the club’s funding comes from the math foundation, an account belonging to the department. “Having the funding come from the foundation means a lot to me and to the students who participate in the club,” he said. “I want to express my deep gratitude to [them] for supporting this club. I don’t think it would have survived if the folks here weren’t supportive of it,” he explained. The club has worked on several projects over the past three years, someof which students haveconsidered turning into St. Mary’s Projects. “It’s great,” Tanton exclaimed. “A lot of the problems are openended and are worthy of further research.” Senior math major James Taylor has been going to the club meetings on and off for the past few semesters, but this is the first semester where he has been able to attend every meeting. The club is something that he enjoys and looks forward to. He believes that “some people are afraid to show that they are enthusiastic in mathematics and [the club] is a place to go to do th a t. . . Professor Tanton makes it so easy to get involved, so it’s hard to go there and not do anything.” “I don’t know how much real math we do. We just investigate the way things go. Sometimes [Tanton] brings up stuff that he’s working on and we do it to see what happens. There’s nothing real intense,” said Taylor. Over the years Tanton has had several articles printed in various publications, including one entitled “A Dozen Questions About a Donut” in the November ’98 issue of Math Horizons. Another article of his will appear in the February issue of the magazine. Being that they like his writing style, Math Horizons asked Tanton if he had any other ideas for articles. He responded, “I run a math club and I would like to write about it,” so they chatted about the idea. According to Tanton, they had never heard of another institution doing anything like it and asked him to write the article.. The article, entitled “A Dozen Mathematical Activities to Try With Friends,” Thinking about studying overseas next semester (or next year)? It’s not too late. Costa Rica, India, Japan, China, England, Kenya, Israel ■ Immerse yourself in a new culture through homes tays, field trips and language training. ■ Experiential learning through an innovative academic curriculum of seminars, handson fieldwork, and independent research. ■ Be part of a Learning Community of students and faculty dedicated to global and socially responsible education. Qlobal Education for Social Change Friends World Program  Box E 239 Montauk Highway • Southampton, N.Y. 11968 fw@southampton.liunet.edu (516) 2878474 FRIENDS WORLD PROGRAM Lo n g Isiand includes 12 different problems with explanations on how to perform them. An example problem, called “Iterated Sharing,” involves the use o f Tootsie Rolls (you can eat them when y o u ’re fin ished). The candy is distributed in even numbers to people around a table. The amount that each person has is arbitrary. Allison Bradford attempts to subdivide a cube of tofu into 27 smaller cubes with six planar cuts, as Brian King and others look on. Then each person passes half of their candy to the person to their left. Each person then recounts their candy supply. If people end up with an odd number of pieces, they each take another piece of candy from the extra supply. The process is then repeated several times. The math club then examines the question of whether or not the amount of candy each person has will grow without bound. Another question with the problem arises when the students eat the odd pieces of candy in order to make their pile even again. If you’re interested in finding out the answer you can try it out for yourself or drop by a club meeting. The club has also raised the interest of the MAA. After hearing about the math club t'romMath H o r izo n s , they approached Tanton and asked him to write a book about the club. Essentially, the book will cover all of the activities that the club has done over the past three years. “It includes an explanation of how to carry out the projects,” Tanton explained. The book will function on many levels. Professors will be able to use it as an instruction booklet to form their own clubs. Students can read it to learn more about mathematics, since it will be written as a puzzle book in some p hoto courtesy of James Tanton ways. Teachers can find examples pertaining to a certain theme in order to enhance their class. Finally, he hopes that the book will appeal to a more general audience. “Anyone can understand the book,” he said. “No mathematical background is needed.” If you understand some calculus, you will get good reasons why things work, but Tanton will also include good intuitive explanations of the problems so that anyone can figure out the problems. Currently, he has written three perspective chapters which have been re viewed. The MAA has ex  p re ssed e x treme interest in publishing the book. They are going through the final committee process now “and things are looking g ood,” according to Tanton, “but nothing is guaranteed.” Taylor loves the ideas of the book and magazine article. “I try to help him out as much as I can with anything that he needs,” he said. He thinks that “the article is good for the school and good for the people involved in the club. It helps create an interest in mathematics.” He also believes that “the problems he is putting [in it] are things that anybody can sit down and read. It can almost be a coffee table book.” "Professor Tanton makes it so easy to get involved, so it's hard to go there and not do anything." —James Taylor; senior 