Ideas for teaching high school and middle school math. Innovative approaches that address the changing ways that today's student learns material.
Math is everywhere! I always get excited when I see math used in tv shows, movies, and articles. I typically use these artifacts as class openers to introduce a topic or as a closer to make drive the point home. Now, I will say that some of the examples shown show math in a silly or intimidating way. This is very representative of society's view of mathematics: a difficult complex science that cannot be mastered. I will explain this for each.

Sherlock Homes: A Game of Shadows (Pascal's Triangle)
This came over during the Holiday Break of the 2011-2012 school year. I reluctantly saw it with a friend (ended up loving it) and was excited to see Pascal's Triangle on the board of the evil dude as a ciphering code for his notebook with his plans to take over the world. I had covered Pascal's Triangles with my 9th graders in the fall and was curious to see if any of them noticed it (the movie did zoom in on it and I think it is the scene shown in the picture.) They did! The link above leads to a publication which goes way more into detail on the math used. I just used is as a "you actually learn stuff in this class that you will see in the media." Now, this is an example of math being used by a super genius trying to ruin the world so it may not have a great vibe on the math but Sherlock had to use math knowledge to save the world so that is good right? I told my students I was showing them math that they could use to take over the world or save the world. 

Go On (Fibonacci Sequence)
Season 1 Episode 12
This was my first summer completely off so I watched some television shows (thank you Netflix/Hulu) that I probably would of not seen if not for my restlessness. Matthew Perry's character in Go On does a sports segment with some famous sports guy who decides to change the focus of his show from sports to philosophy topics. He asks Matthew about his opinion on Fibonacci and Matthew is confused and lists off the first sequence he can think of...911. It is another not so positive jab at math but at least 50% of the people in the discussion know about Fibonacci. I am still in debate if I will use this clip in my classes this year. 

Raising Hope (Area of a Circle)
Season 2 Episode 11
Alright, it is hard to show math being portrayed in modern media. This would actually be an interesting topic for a research paper or article (maybe that will be a goal of mine this semester). Here is another poke at mathematics were the only person who knows anything about calculating the area of a circle is the memory challenged grandmother. I know I teach this topic in Pre-Algebra this school year so it would fit in easily but once again I am debating on the message it sends about the inaccessibility of math. 


08/06/2013 20:54

There is a star trek episode that is absolutely awesome at explaining limits (expected value vrs actual value). It's called "All our Yesterdays". It's not "explicitly math" but there's a door way in the episode. Kirk here's a scream coming from it and runs to the door. When he runs through the door he doesn't wind up in the hallway but instead on another planet. The LIMIT (expected value) is hallway but the function value is other planet. It's a fun way to start talking math

08/16/2013 01:12

There's also this great Futurama episode that my cryptology teacher showed us when he was teaching us cycle notation. Here's an analysis of the mathiness -

08/27/2013 08:48

Haha interesting post. It is funny to see how math is like in modern day media. Nice post! Thanks for sharing your thoughts and these interesting clips.

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09/25/2013 13:15

This is very interesting to me. I am on my way to being an elementary school teacher with a concentration in mathematics. The more field work I do for any age group, I realize that being bad at math is just a socially excepted idea. It seems like a feared and intimidating subject. As a future teacher it seems I will have to be facing off against society to try to push a love for math.

11/16/2013 13:45

There is a great movie that you forgot to mention in your post. "A Beautiful Mind" -- a movie that has served as a great source of inspiration for me. The fact that it is based on a true story is thought-provoking.

03/23/2014 16:55

This topic would make an interesting research paper. As a math teacher I was crazy over the show "Numb3rs"! I do not watch much TV either but would not miss an episode of this show. And with Netflix and Hulu I can enjoy them over and over. There are great episodes involving probability. I would love to show some of these in class but some of them would not be suited for small kids.
This one is really good to introduce simple probability:


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Ideas for teaching high school and middle school math. Innovative approaches that address the changing ways that today's student learns material.