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Archive for November, 2008


With the holidays approaching many of you may be looking for gift ideas for young problem solvers.  A good place to start is the excellent Bookstore run by The Art of Problem Solving.

hard-problemsAmong the many excellent resources are two that have been featured on this site that might make particularly good gifts.  The DVD Hard Problems tells the story of the 2006 IMO team.  The profiles of the six team members and the story of how they qualified for and competed in the IMO should encourage any aspiring problem solver.

We have also mentioned an excellent new book by Dr. Titu Andreescu called Problems from the Book.  This book has received excellent reviews and is one of the most searched items on the Metroplex Math Circle site.

If you have any other recommendations for appropriate gift ideas please feel free to post them to the comments.

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NACLO 2009


Adam Hesterberg

Adam Hesterberg

Students who excel at math competitions like the AMC 10 and 12 might be interested in participating in the North American Computational Linguistics Olympiad coming up in February.   Similar to the USAMO, this national test is used to select a team to compete internationally in the International Linguistics Olympiad.

Like Math Circles and international problem solving competitions, these linguistics competitions have their origins in Eastern Europe.  They also appear to draw on many of the same problem solving and thinking talents of successful Math Olympians.    In this interview with Adam Hesterberg, a former MATHCOUNTS and USAMO winner, explains how he prepared for his win in last year’s ILO.

For those of us in the Metroplex area it appears that the University of North Texas in Denton will be offering the NACLO this year.

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I’ve enjoyed reading the Math 152 Weblog associated with the Discrete Mathematics course of the same name at Harvard.  Many of the posts should be of interest to Metroplex Math Circle attendees, but two recent posts struck me as being very similar to topics from our Fall 2008 lectures.

Math 152 helps you get jobs…

In this post a student talks about an interview he had with a quantitative trading firm which asked him to do a discrete path problem which was very similar to those Richard Rusczyk shared with us in his Math and Finance lecture.

Reading Project:  Groups, Factoring and Cryptography

This post built upon ideas that were introduced to Math Circle participants by both Dr. Bennette Harris and Alicia Prieto Lagarica in their lectures on cryptography.  It was particularly interesting that this Harvard student was able to apply his understanding of discrete math to the practical applications of RSA encryption just as Dr. Harris taught.

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This was an interesting article earlier in the month about the strong interest that elite universities are taking in recruiting the best students from China. William Fitzsimmons, Harvard’s admissions dean, has the following to say in the article:

Even fifth-graders in Wellesley, Newton, and Brookline, who as adults will face international competition for jobs, should begin beefing up their academic résumés if they want a shot at an Ivy League education, Fitzsimmons said.

“We’re trying to send a message to young people, as young as primary school, to make the most of their studies,” he said, “because they’ll be competing with students around the world later on.”

It won’t surprise Math Circle participants but the qualities that are attracting elite universities to China are mathematics and problem solving abilities.

The first Shing-Tung Yau High School Mathematics Awards, named for the Harvard math professor who organized it, drew more than 900 students from all corners of the country. The 40 finalists who assembled for three days in Beijing had spent the past six months preparing to shine – not only for the judges, which included three Harvard professors, but also for the admissions deans they would meet.

“This is a historic event,” Fitzsimmons said. “We’re trying to get out the word that Harvard is world class in math, science, and engineering, not just in the humanities.”

…Professor Yau, chairman of Harvard’s math department who conceived of last month’s competition, has returned to his homeland to not only spur the improvement of math education in China through the contest, which rewards students for creativity and collaboration, but also to help funnel a generation of Chinese high school students into America’s premiere colleges.

This competition will enhance the experience for everyone attending US universities, but it also requires that students prepare themselves to compete against this new international standard.  Programs like the AMC contests and Math Circles are intended to do just that.  The article ends with this comment about a boy who had been profiled.  I think Math Circle participants will find it very familiar even if the report finds it remarkable:

The next morning, a Saturday, Tiger showed up at his school’s weekly math club and spent three hours learning about number theory – “just for fun,” he said.

To read the full article please click on the logo below:

boston_globe

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UT Dallas has been very generous in supporting Metroplex Math Circle which invests in the multi-year achievement and enlightenment of our students.  I read with great interest the the University of Texas at Dallas is also committed to a multi-year plan with the goal of become a Tier One Research University.

These twin investments will converge over the next 10 years as some of our most talented students are given the option to work with the world’s best faculty and students here in North Texas.  UT Dallas President, Dr. David E. Daniels makes the good point that this is not the case today and that our region suffers from it:

In Fall, 2006:

  • Texas sent 10,163 high school students to doctoral granting universities in other states
  • Texas attracted 4,358 high school graduates from other states to doctoral-granting Texas universities
  • Texas had a net brain drain of 5,815 high school students to universities in other states in 2006
  • The problem is worsening –the loss increased 54% from 2000 to 2006.

Following are some more documents from UT Dallas describing their plan to elevate the campus from an already leading research university to a true Tier One.

What is Tier One?

Texas is home to three outstanding Tier One universities: Rice, Texas A&M, and UT Austin. Maintaining the strengths of these institutions relative to the best universities in the nation is vital. But this will not be enough to keep Texas competitive in the face of what has become a global contest for talent, ideas, home-grown advances, and economic development. Texas must develop more top-tier universities, particularly in the major population centers of the state. Texas lags states such as California and New York in this area, and pays the price. read more

Tier One Proposal, Executive Summary

Thoughts on the Creation of Tier One Universities in Texas

Presentation on Tier One (Slideshow | Printable)

President David E. Daniel is interviewed about Tier One on KERA-FM

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Dr. Titu Andreescu and Dr. Arthur Benjamin

Dr. Titu Andreescu and Dr. Arthur Benjamin

Metroplex Math Circle’s first ever Special Presentation was a great success!  Over 330 people attended Dr. Arthur Benjamin’s presentation which demonstrated amazing feats of mental calculation.

Dr. Benjamin amazed the crowd with his ability to multiply and square 4 and 5 digit numbers in his head.  But unlike other magicians, because Dr. Benjamin’s “tricks” are based on mathematics he is willing to show the crowd his secrets.  One of the many things that Dr. Benjamin taught was the ability to quickly find the day of the week a person will celebrate their birthday in the past, present or future.

After his formal presentation, Dr. Benjamin took questions from the audience and gave informative and entertaining responses.  One such question led to a rare singing performance of a song about Pi!  After the performance, Dr. Benjamin was extremely generous with his time signing autographs and talking with the students.

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Attendees had high praise for Dr. Benjamin and his performance, including:

“This was FANTASTIC! I have always wanted to know how to figure out what day of the week a birthday was on. Now I can do that and square a 2 digit number in my head! I will be bugging friends with that parlor trick for a while….I am worse than the kids LOL Emma and Olivia couldn’t go to sleep they were still so excited from the presentation.”

“Our whole family attended and thoroughly enjoyed the presentation an Encore would be wonderful!”

“My family enjoyed Dr. Benjamin tremendously.  We could have listened to him all night.  Thank you so much for having him at Mathcircle.  It was truly a night to remember.”

“My husband and daughter attended last night and really enjoyed the presentation. Thanks to all who worked to put it together!!”

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Please feel free to post your own comments or questions in the comments section.

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After Dr. Benjamin’s special November 19 presentation, Metroplex Math Circle will be on break for the next two Saturdays to allow people to travel for the Thanksgiving holiday.

We will return for our last lecture of the semester December 6 with Dr. Tanya Khovanova who will deliver two talks:

1. Binary Numbers

I will teach binary numbers, show a magic trick and we will play with binary dollars.

2. Integers and Sequences

Have you ever heard of untouchable numbers? How about aspiring numbers?  I will tell you what they are.  I will talk about perfect numbers and how they are connected to Mersenne primes. I will talk about the biggest known prime number.  Have you ever wondered what is the most famous number sequence? What is the most versatile sequence? We will discuss that.  What is the largest amount of coin money you can have without being able to make change for a dollar? You can bring your answer to this seminar. What is so special about 1089? You will learn that too. Is 42 (The Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything) more famous than 47 (the secret Star Trek TNG number)? You will get the answer to that.  I will also show you the Internet resources about numbers. You will be able to find out many things about your favorite numbers.

Dr. Khovanova has had a varied and interesting career.  She grew up in Russia where she participated in many math competitions, winning 3 gold medals at the national level and one gold and a silver at the IMO.  She earned her PhD in Mathematics at Moscow State University.

Until recently Dr. Khovanova worked in Battle Management until recently deciding to return to academia.  She currently holds a position as a Visiting Scholar at Math Dept at MIT.   In addition, Dr. Khovanova is a math competition coach at the Advanced Math and Sciences Academy.

You can read more about Dr. Tanya Khovanova on her blog.

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