Sunday, June 14, 2009

Ethiopian Mathematics

For a couple of reasons, I've been thinking about mathematics lately.

JP had a homework assignment from his Finite Mathematics class (IU/East) this past week that was really interesting. His assignment was to create an instructional video, a visual tutorial for the solving of a complicated problem incorporating ratios, matrices, chemicals, fertilizer, and marketing.

First, I marveled at the ease with which that he could solve such a tricky problem. My family's DNA is largely minus this particular gene. But my son is not only good at it, he also takes a measure of enjoyment from it's successful pursuit. The class itself is interesting in that it's emphasis is on real-world applications, not merely theoretical abstractions. Not that there is anything intrinsically wrong with theoretical abstractions, per se.

Secondly, even though he thought the whole thing was no big deal, JP was very creative in the way he assembled his tutorial video, using markers, Sharpies, digital camera, and a confident, engaging patois that made it all surprisingly interesting. No, really. His teacher is planning to use this video, and the others created by JP's classmates as the basis for a website that student's can use to learn how to solve different types of math problems. Personally, the whole thing struck me as yet another remarkable example of how technology has transformed the way we learn and communicate. However, as recently as 10 years ago, the capability of producing this kind of thing on the dining room table did not practically exist within the reach of most people. Twenty years ago, we really didn't even have the vocabulary to discuss or understand the concept.

Here is another short math video, produced by the BBC, that I found fascinating, too. It is about the strange connections between an ancient mathematical practice still in use today by Ethiopian merchants and it's connection to modern computer calculation algorithms. Check it out.

Personally, I find it a compelling argument for intelligent design and strong evidence of the creative mind of God. But I digress...

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