K-12 Unsolved Math Conference

In November, I attended a math conference with another 24 people at the Banff International Research Station for a weekend. The conference was organized by my friend Dr. Gordon Hamilton of MathPickle.com fame (visit his site for more info on the conference). It was meant to discuss and identify 13 unsolvable math problems that could be introduced at each grade level from kindergarten to grade 12 as puzzles or games that have curricular connections. Among the attendees were math educators, education consultants, puzzle pros, and mathematicians, each bringing expertise to the table.

First of all, I was blown away by the Banff Centre where BIRS is just one of the many buildings used to promote scientific research, artistic residencies, and host internationally acclaimed cultural events. The facilities are state of the art and staff are wonderful (I took the Greyhound to and from Banff for the event. When I was checking out, the door man asked where I had parked my car and when he discovered I was walking to the bus station (2 km away), he locked up the storage room and shuttled me to the station, insisting this was necessary and that me walking there would be absolutely tragic.). The food is also stellar and I must thank my school for covering the food costs.

The weekend was full and we spent a lot of time debating the merits of various problems, how they should be presented, their relevance, and especially how we could go about promoting the concept of teachers using unsolved problems in their classrooms (no easy task in this age). One of the ideas we tossed around for a long time was the offering of a $1 Million award for anyone who solved one of the problems. The trick here isn’t so much the money, which insurance could cover, but the vetting of the solutions – who would do it?

In the evenings we played games and talked math. One of the lead guys attending was James Tanton, currently the visiting scholar of the Mathematical Association of America. He had some really innovative ideas that I can’t pretend to explain here. Check out his website for some mini courses – especially the one on disappearing dots.

My hunch though is that Gord did all of this so that we could find a way to introduce every living student to Pick’s Theorem – which I have to say, is pretty cool, and fun to play with.

Leave a Reply