For All Practical Purposes

Published on Thursday, October 29, 2009 in , , , , ,

Why do so many people hate mathematics? A large part of it is that they associate it with boring problem-solving exercises, and have never been shown how it relates to the real world.

Back in 1987, there was an excellent PBS series, For All Practical Purposes: An Introduction to Contemporary Mathematics, hosted by Sol Garfunkel, that focused on real-world applications of mathematics.

Not only did the series show how real-world applications, it also employed modern mathematical concepts that many people never learned about in high school or college. It also presents them in an easy to understand manner.

The real-world applications were broken up into the areas of management science (scheduling people and workflow to maximize efficiency and effectiveness), statistics, social choice (making choices and taking chances), size and shape, and computer science.

Most of these videos are now available online. Below is a complete list of episodes, with the available ones linked to videos of their respective episodes. Many of the gaps can be filled in by consulting the accompanying textbook of the same name.

Since this video series is more than 20 years old, some of the examples may seem outdated, but all the principles still apply. As a matter of fact, the age of the series is actually an advantage, as you can do some research on these examples, and see how those example were developed over time, and learn even more!

Episode 1: Management Science—Overview
Episode 2: Street Smarts
Episode 3: Trains Planes and Critical Paths
Episode 4: Juggling Machines
Episode 5: Juicy Problems
Episode 6: Statistics—Overview
Episode 7: Behind the Headlines
Episode 8: Picture This
Episode 9: Place Your Bets
Episode 10: Confident Conclusions
Episode 11: Social Choice—Overview
Episode 12: The Impossible Dream
Episode 13: More Equal Than Others
Episode 14: Zero Sum Games
Episode 15: Prisoners Dilemma
Episode 16: On Size and Shape—Overview
Episode 17: How Big Is Too Big
Episode 18: It Grows and Grows
Episode 19: Stand-up Conic
Episode 20: It Started in Greece
Episode 21: Computer Science—Overview
Episode 22: Rules of the Game
Episode 23: Counting by Two's
Episode 24: Creating a Code
Episode 25: Moving Picture Show
Episode 26: Summing Up

If you like Sol Garfunkel's teaching style, you may also enjoy his other series, Algebra: In Simplest Terms, which also has many episodes available online.

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2 Response to For All Practical Purposes

7:37 PM

Heartfelt thanks to all who contributed to making this wonderful series available on the web! Hopefully, the missing episodes will find their way into this collection before long. My grandson, 10, and I often view an episode together as excursions into the wonderland of mathematics. Thank you, Sol Garfunkel, Pi Guy, Annenberg, etc.!

5:51 PM

I will be teaching a class this summer on mathematical modeling that covers most of the topics covered in the series. I have the textbook that goes with the lectures and I like it a lot. Unfortunately, buying the videos is prohibitively expensive (almost $400) especially considering how little I am getting paid to teach this class. Can I watch them some other way? I'm putting my lecture notes together and I think it would be helpful to watch this.