New video posted in the VIDEOS section

The interview was recorded in February last year, in Belgrade, Serbia, but was only recently published on Youtube. You can find it on the site VIDEOS page. The accompanying text translates more or less as follows:

“An exclusive interview given in February last year to the 12th edition of the Elements magazine, published by the Center for the Promotion of Science.
In a comprehensive interview with Aleksandar Ravas and Tijana Markovic, published in the 12th Element, Devlin spoke about mathematical thinking, mathematics education, predicting the future, the difference between false stories in mathematics and the reality, and many other interesting and socially engaged topics.”

New podcast on mathematical outreach

BBVA tweet, May 9, 2019

The latest podcast in the “We learn together” (Aprendemos juntos) series sponsored by the BBVA (Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria, a multinational bank) features an interview they recorded with me a few months ago. This is actually the audio track from a video that will be published shortly.

Much of the interview focuses on my work on mathematical outreach, including what led me to devote so much effort to that enterprise.

— KD

The Misconceptions About Math That Are Keeping Students From Succeeding

That’s not my title above. It’s the headline to an article published by Forbes two days ago. It’s a must read for all students, teachers and parents.

SUMOP addresses the biggest of the myths. (Actually, all of them, but the biggest one jumps right out.) Not by saying it is myth. Not by explaining why it’s a myth. Rather, by showing it’s a myth. With relevant, contemporary, real-world examples.

Pacioli’s “Summa” in San Francisco

Setting up to give the talk under the watchful eye of Picasso

On April 24, SUMOP visited San Francisco’s new arts complex in the old dockland area to give a short talk about the background and importance of Luca Pacioli’s 1494 book Summa de arithmetica, geometria, proportioni et proportionalita. The occasion was a public showing of one of the few remaining first edition copies of the book by Christie’s, who are auctioning the book in New York in June. Giving a talk with a life-sized painting of Picasso behind me and original paintings by Renoir and Monet to my left (the total estimated value of all three at auction is $27M) was a new experience for me.

But I got an even greater thrill from spending a few moments before the event taking a close look at the book that initiated the modern commercial world by providing business leaders and financiers with the modern accounting methods necessary to run large organizations. Without the methods described in Pacioli’s book (which Christie’s expects to fetch between $1M and $1.5M), there would not be a financial system to give those paintings their much greater financial value. (Clearly, while I share with many the appreciation of fine art, the value I put on brilliant mathematical innovations is not mainstream.)

For a greatly expanded, written version of my talk, see the forthcoming May 1 issue of my regular Devlin’s Angle commentary for the Mathematical Association of America. (The April 1 post had a preview of the Christie’s event.)

Here are a few photos from the event. Two of the pictures show me examining one of the examples of double-entry bookkeeping in the textbook that first taught that method to the world.

“Life by the Numbers” tv series

Cover of the official companion book

I just discovered that the award-winning Life by the Numbers PBS television series, first broadcast nationally in 1998, is now available online. I was a lead advisor on the series (and appeared in a couple of episodes), and wrote the official, full-color companion book, by the same title.

That series, produced by WQED in Pittsburgh with a big budget from NSF, private foundations, and corporations, was one of my inspirations for, and a forerunner to, SUMOP.

A comprehensive review of the series, which includes a synopsis of each episode, written by mathematician Colm Mulcahy, was published by the Mathematical Association of America shortly after the series first aired.

In the years immediately following the series’ release, I used clips from the series in my college courses for liberal arts majors, since the six episodes ranged over a wide variety of different walks of life and society. (A seventh episode was aimed at teachers. I had no role in that; my focus on mathematics education did not develop until 2001, when I was invited to serve on the National Academies’ Mathematical Sciences Education Board.) Though the content was cutting edge in 1996-7, when we were making the series, each year about 10% of the six hours of content became out of date, a dramatic illustration of the rapid pace at which mathematics and its applications develop in the present era.

To some extent then, the series (and my companion book) can be regarded as mostly of historical interest. But on another level, they remain totally current. For what they show is the way mathematics is crucially relevant to society (though not how the mathematical work is actually carried out today, as is indicated in many of the materials on this site). For that reason, Life by the Numbers is in fact as topical now as it was back in 1998.

SUMOP is intended to provide an updated version of Life by the Numbers (with Jo Boaler’s youcubed already providing an updated version of the, separately funded, seventh episode of the series), that reflects the major technological changes that have occurred in the intervening two decades. In fact, a further illustration of the dramatic changes resulting from the new technology tools and platforms available today, is the fact that a small team working with a low budget (like SUMOP) can now do what required a large television company, a nationwide television network, and a budget of several millions of dollars, twenty-five years ago.

The one thing you won’t find on SUMOP is movie star Danny Glover, who hosted the original series. [Hmm. Let me look into that … I recall that he did Life by the Numbers for the mandated minimum actors union fee.]