Mathematician of the Month – Ramanujan

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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.

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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?