Mathematician of the Month – Ramanujan


The fact that Srinivasa Ramanujan Iyengar has a feature film on his life called The Man Who Knew Infinity: A Life of the Genius Ramanujan speaks volumes about the greatness of this Indian-born mathematician. The downside to his great intellect? He was so far ahead of his time and his work was so unorthodox, that even the most celebrated scholars of his times couldn’t really understand him! It is only now, more than 80 years after he passed away that we are beginning to comprehend his work and apply it to computing and complicated physics.

Thanks to the English mathematician G H Hardy, Ramanujan came to England. But he was known for certain quirks. For instance, he refused point blank to wear shoes or socks. People started referring to him as a nutcase as he was in the habit of lying face down in a cot while working on mathematical problems, and that too on a slate with chalk rather than using pen and paper. The most infuriating habit of all – especially to his fellow mathematicians – was that Ramanujan would rub out all his complicated workings with his elbow once he solved a mathematical problem and just leave behind the solutions on his slate! As a result of which mathematicians, even today, are still in the process of figuring out how exactly this mastermind worked them all out so correctly.

The most popular story about Ramanujan comes from a visit G H Hardy made to him when he was on his deathbed. Hardy didn’t know what to say to cheer him up, so he commented on the boring number of his taxi – 1729. Our genius, even in that ill state, was instantly inspired and sat up: “1729 is a fascinating number! It is the smallest number that can be expressed as the sum of two cubes in two different ways!”

In his short yet extremely fruitful life, this mathematical prodigy rediscovered previously known theorems, produced new theorems of his own accord, independently compiled nearly 4000 results of identities and equations and made remarkable contributions to the fields of mathematical analysis, number theory, infinite series and continued fractions.

G H Hardy summed it up perfectly when he said: “Here was a man who could work out modular equations and theorems to orders unheard of, and whose mastery of continued fraction was beyond that of any mathematician in the world.” Undoubtedly, he was one of a kind, the only one in his league.

3 Reading Games for the Elementary Classroom

I haven’t met a kid who doesn’t like to play, so it makes sense to use games as learning tools in the classroom. That’s what I did back in those years when I wanted my first graders to learn and polish their reading skills; I introduced some fun and interactive reading games that helped motivate them to become better readers. These games can be used along with online reading games for a balanced reading experience. Feel free to check them out!

9610012698_84910f7432_z-1SAD_Amidon 70” by US Department of Education, licensed under CC BY 2.0

Guess the Word

Skills taught – Word recognition and sequencing

How to Play

  • Identify a “secret” word from a random chapter or story.
  • Write that word on a piece of paper.
  • Give your students a hint of the word’s location in the book; for instance, you can say “The word is on page 79.”
  • Let the students take turns asking you yes-no questions to help them arrive at the correct answer. For instance they might ask “Is the word on the top half or the bottom half of the page?” Or, “Does it come before the word “careless”?
  • The student who zeroes in on the correct word wins the round.
  • Continue playing the game for as many rounds as you want to. Once the students have mastered the rules, they can play the game in small groups.

The Reading Wagon

A reading wagon is a good investment for your classroom. Acquire a wagon or use any pull vehicle and invite your students to decorate it. Then encourage them to fill it up with their favorite books. Even better, have everyone collect books that fit into a theme they are studying in class and place them all in the wagon. When it’s time to do independent reading, choose a student to pull the wagon around and deliver books to her fellow readers. Each time the wagon stops, students can choose a book and read it. The wagon can go around again when reading time is over and collect all the books.

Spell It

Skills – Spelling and vocabulary

How to Play

  • This variation on the classic Spelling Bee is loads of fun to play in the classroom. First, invite the students to form a circle.
  • Give them a word to spell. The first student says the first letter, the second student says the second letter and the round continues until the word has been spelled.
  • A student who provides the wrong letter must sit down.
  • When the word is completed, the next student says “Done!” and the student next to him must sit down.
  • The game continues until only one student is left standing.

Elementary students would hopefully enjoy playing these games and become better readers as a result. What do you think?

Mathematician of the Month – Archimedes


Archimedes of Syracuse – a mathematician, a physicist, an engineer, an astronomer, an inventor, a scientist – there was absolutely nothing that this brilliant man couldn’t do! No wonder he is considered to be the greatest mathematician of classical times and one of the greatest till date.

Archimedes’ first tryst with fame came when the ruler of those times, King Hieron, built a ship which was too heavy to go into the sea (Why did he build ‘a ship’ anyways if it couldn’t sail? Archimedes must have had a good laugh at the majesty!). Our budding genius was the savior – he came up with a slick contraption made up of pulleys, levers and cog wheels, which allowed a single individual to launch the massive ship into the waters, all the while sitting back in a chair and relaxing with a cool drink in his hands! And hence the famous Archimedes quote: “Give me a place to stand and I will move the earth!”

What’s more, this prodigy also had a hand in fighting with the Romans. Legend has it that he helped the army build huge wacky catapults that hurled boulders through oncoming ships and mirrors that reflected the sunlight onto ships, which resulted in them erupting into flames, even before they got close to the land! The best story of all is that of a gigantic crane he constructed that had the capability to reach over the wall, lift entire ships up, shake them around till they rattled and then drop them back into the seas – upside down! Must have been a sight to behold!

To put it in a nutshell, here is a man who invented the water screw, made war machines, made a heat ray, created a miniature planetarium, worked with pulleys and levers, invented calculus (to the woes of many like me, no doubt), invented the odometer and is more famous for his inventions in life than just math alone!

His last words supposedly were: “Don’t disturb my circles!” as a Roman soldier walked across his drawings in the sand for his latest mathematical theorem. The soldier was so incensed, that he stabbed the mathematician. Thus came to an end the extraordinary life of the greatest ‘Eureka’ genius in Greek history.

What You Need to Know Before Homeschooling Your Child

Homeschooling is a great option for parents who want more control over their kids’ education. It’s a well-known fact that homeschooled kids do better in standardized achievement tests and get a first-class education, even as they have loads of fun. So if you think you have the time, temperament and resources to homeschool your child, here are three surefire ways you can make your project a success.


homeschooling during advent” by Elena, licensed under CC BY 2.0

Educate Yourself

Before you embark on your educational project, you need to investigate your options and get the details sorted. Understand why you want to homeschool your child and what you hope to accomplish by it. Explore the best routes and resources available to homeschoolers and choose your curriculum. Research your state’s homeschooling requirements and get detailed information about homeschooling laws. The end of a school year is a good time to start your research if you’re planning to start by autumn. You can subscribe to homeschooling newsletters and magazines, read books, visit the library, talk to other homeschooling parents and/or join a homeschooling group.

Get the Tools

You may not be able to have everything that a regular school will have, but you can easily assimilate and use the basics. You need to have a computer with a high-speed internet connection along with textbooks and supplies. Additionally, you can subscribe to online learning websites that offer educational worksheets, activities and other printables for free or for a small membership fee. If possible, set up a small home chemistry lab with essential equipment like a microscope, glass tubing, tongs and clamps, distillation equipment, digital balances, etc. You can also establish a library with second hand books or get a library membership. Remember that your home is your child’s school so you will have to set it up like one.

Sign Them up for Extracurricular Activities

The best part of homeschooling is the flexibility you have when it comes to establishing a schedule for your little scholar. Use this to pique and develop his interest in a wide range of activities – music, dance, sports, field trips, art lessons, seminars, Boy or Girl Scouts, etc. Kids learn the importance of teamwork and responsibility when they get involved in structured activities outside the home. They also get to interact with their peers, develop social skills, build confidence and learn new skills that will stand them in good stead. Once they identify their areas of interest, they can pursue it further and maybe even take it up as a vocation.

Homeschooling is one of the fastest growing forms of education in America today. If you’re planning to homeschool your child, make sure you get off on the right foot!

Mathematician of the Month – Newton


‘There is no great genius without a touch of madness,’ so they say. And Isaac Newton, supposedly the greatest mathematician (and physicist and scientist and natural philosopher) Britain has ever produced, was no exception.

In a way, it is his uncle who is to be credited for giving the world one of the most brilliant scientists of all time. Newton’s uncle noticed that Isaac was very poor at farming – his traditional family occupation – and hence persuaded his mother to send him to college for higher studies. Not many know that one of the greatest ambitions of Newton’s life (which was unfortunately left unfulfilled) was to get his hands on the philosopher’s stone (yes, the same Harry Potter one) which contained the secret to turn common metals into gold.

He is credited with numerous contributions. He is credited for laying down the foundations of classical mechanics, through his book ‘Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy’. It was he who came up with the laws of motion (planetary and otherwise), universal gravitation, calculus and the rules of color and light. And he did so much more, things which cannot be enumerated here due to lack of space (and effort, since the list seems endless).

And remember there was a tree under which he was sitting, when an apple fell on his head? Well, apparently, that tree is real. A piece of the same old iconic apple tree was even loaned by the Royal Society to NASA who took it into space. This is the sort of real-life stuff fairytales are made of!

How to Come up with a Great Science Fair Project Idea and What to do with It

For wannabe scientists, science fairs are great opportunities to get some hands-on experience with the process of scientific research. Small fairs can be loads of fun for scientifically-inclined kids, while the bigger ones come with generous university scholarship funding or internships for winners. Here’s how you can come up with a great science fair project idea and make the most of it.


Choose a Good Science Fair Project Idea

  • A “good” science fair project idea is one that interests and challenges you. Never mind if it’s something completely new and untried – you will grow as a scientist only by delving into unexplored territories and learning more along the way. You are most likely to find you enjoy an area you might never have picked otherwise.
  • While a complicated-looking project does not guarantee success, topics that are too easy – “What types of glue are the strongest?” – are unlikely to impress the judges unless you are going to study the molecular structure of each type of glue. However, in most cases, a student who knows his topic well will win over a student with poor presentation skills.
  • No matter what topic you choose, make sure you focus on a specific aspect that can be completed within a year. For instance, instead of working on ways to reduce global warming, focus on reducing or mitigating one cause of global warming and you’re more likely to make progress in it.

Spend Time on Background Research

Once you choose your topic, you’ll need to spend sufficient time researching the background and collecting data. This data is the backbone of your science fair project – it is the basis on which you will be building your project and the importance of collecting and understanding this information cannot be emphasized enough.  Background research helps you formulate a hypothesis, create a streamlined procedure; maybe even avoid some of the problems that might crop up during your project and definitely help you save time in the end.  The more time you spend understanding your topic, the more accurately will you be able to predict what might happen.  It will also make it easier to analyze your results and arrive at a detailed conclusion. This is the real purpose of background research.

Do not be disheartened if your data seems to difficult to decipher – some concepts need to be reread several times before you can make sense of them – the best way is to start with what you do understand and work your way upwards. Do not let unknown concepts frighten you into giving up on the science fair project idea; one of the most important reasons for doing a science project is to learn new things.

Presentation Matters

You can maximize your chances of winning by learning how to communicate your science fair project idea well.

  • Prepare a short spiel (2-5 minutes) summarizing your key findings and the theory behind the project – you will have to give this speech when you meet the judges, so keep it short and succinct.
  • Make a list of questions the judges are likely to ask you and rehearse the answers. Ask your parents, siblings or friends to pretend they are judges and practice explaining your project in simple layman terms to them.
  • If possible, create easy-to-understand graphs and diagrams on your display board and point to them during the discussion.
  • Be audible and confident while answering questions – DO NOT MUMBLE! If you do not know the answer, it’s okay to say “I don’t know.”
  • Always ask for feedback from judges and visitors to improve your project and come up with a better idea next time.

Hope this helped!

Mathematician of the Month – Napier

Logarithm 1Well, what is this ‘log-in-a-rhythm’ up to? And what does this have to do with our celebrated Scottish mathematician of the month – John Napier? A lot, actually. It is this Mr. John Napier who is credited with making an incredible contribution to the field of mathematics, in the form of the invention of the mathematical concept of ‘logarithm’.

John Napier

A logarithm can be defined thus: It is a quantity representing the power to which a fixed number (the base) must be raised to produce a given number.

Didn’t get it? Well, in simpler terms, it is a method by which relatively complicated mathematical calculations involving multiplication and division can be replaced by the simpler mathematical processes of addition and subtraction to arrive at the required result. This process of simplification of large calculations paved the way ahead for many scientists of yesteryears (and is even helping them now!), leading to significant advancements in the fields of science and technology.

As with a majority of the other eminent scientists and mathematicians, Mr. Napier also led a crazy smart life of sorts. He was seen as a virtual recluse – roaming around in his nightclothes according to his whims and fancies, muttering all the while to himself. For some reason unknown to the world, he always carried around a black spider in a small box kept in his pocket.

Legend has it that once upon a time Napier suspected that one of his servants had started stealing from the estate. In order to nab the culprit, he devised a clever plan – a black rooster (that, on a brainwave from Napier, was brushed with black soot), which allegedly was blessed with the power of divination, was kept inside a shed. Each of the servants was asked to go inside and touch the rooster in question, which would eventually come up with the name of the thief. The servants did so; and as expected, one of the fellows that went in came out clean-handed and was rightly proclaimed the thief!

It is said that Napier considered the subject of mathematics more like a hobby; he enjoyed it immensely (It fails me how anyone can enjoy maths and my kids take after me – I have to put in a huge amount of effort just to get them to do their math worksheets… Phew!). . The first time he set foot in a school was at the age of 13 years. But soon he dropped out and not much of his life is known till at the age of 21 years, he bought his own castle in Scotland (aaah, if only wishes were horses, beggars – like me – would ride!). Today, it is a part of the prestigious Edinburgh Napier University.

Theorems in spherical trigonometry (maths that deals with the relations of the sides and angles of triangles), Napier’s bones (a multiplication tool using a set of numbered rods) and extensive books on logarithms are just some of his contributions to astronomy and dynamics, in addition to other areas of physics. Hats off, Mr. Napier!