Review: Beauty and Mathematics

Published on Thursday, November 12, 2009 in , , , , , , ,

Dr. Frank Wang's Beauty and MathematicsI first discussed Dr. Frank Wang's educational DVD, Beauty and Mathematics, back in 2006, when I linked to 2 videos from the DVD's product page.

Dr. Wang has recently been generous enough to send me a copy of this course, so I thought I would share my thoughts on it with Grey Matters readers.

Disclaimer: I was provided with the complete course by Dr. Wang himself and was not charged for it. I do not make any money off the purchase of the course. The thoughts below are purely mine as a result of going over the course on my own time for the purposed of informing Grey Matters readers.

The course itself, whose full name is Beauty and Mathematics: Mathematician's Search for Order and Pattern, comes as a DVD set and handouts related to the various sections of the course. There are also a few advertising and promotional items included, such as a pocket protector and a sample board for an arithmetic challenge called Witzzle Pro.

The DVD case contains 2 DVDs and a CD-ROM. The first DVD contains the presentations, and the 2nd DVD contains the explanations. The CD-ROM contains handouts related to the each section in the form of PDFs. Pre-printed copies of these PDFs are also included with the course.

Dr. Wang currently teaches at the Oklahoma School of Science and Mathematics, and much of the presentation footage is shot at an assembly there, with some footage from a teacher's meeting where he lectured. The presentation talks are the basics, and even include some amazing demonstrations, including the "The Birthday Paradox" and "The Death-Defying Feat" (free videos and worksheets available at link).

Each segment of the lecture follows the theme of finding order and patterns from some sort of random mix. The segments included focus on the Rubik's Cube, Ramsey Theory, the small-world and birthday paradoxes, random walks, crumpled paper, Pi from random numbers and the Death-Defying Feat (as linked above). These sections are designed to grab you, and draw you in, and are presented with humor, fun, and even surprise and mystery in some cases.

The explanation DVD, by contrast, is shot in a studio, and explains each section in more detail. The focus here is on clarity, as it should be. The explanations often go deeper into each topic than you'd expect, which pleasantly surprised me. Even when discussing how the number of Rubik's Cube configurations, for example, he delves into decimal point vs. decimal comma and short scale vs. long scale. Even on topics where I was fairly sure I understood them, such as estimating Pi from random numbers, I learned more than I expected.

I'll sum up this review in 2 different ways, as I'm really writing for 2 different audiences in this review. First, for this set's intended audience of teachers and students, I definitely recommend this set. Math can often be hard to teach, and even harder when trying to grab your student's interest. The approach in the Beauty and Mathematics set, of demonstrating order coming out of apparent chaos, and making the demonstration of that fun and engaging, is a great way to help your students truly learn. Much of the material you may have thought of as too advanced for some students becomes clear, intuitive and understandable with Dr. Wang's approach.

Second, Grey Matters readers should already be interested in this, and fun and math have long been a focus of this blog. Unlike many education products, the $49.95 price it's affordable, and not priced for only schools. If you've enjoyed the mathematics approach used in places like this blog and BetterExplained, where intuition and clarity are paramount, you'll enjoy Beauty and Mathematics.

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