Buckeye Aha! Math Moments

By Visiting Professor Érika Roldán Roa

“Toys are not really as innocent as they look. Toys and games are precursors to serious ideas.” – Charles Eames

COSI Science Fest

Buckeye Aha! Math Moments at COSI Science FestOn Saturday, May 4, hundreds of people visited the hands-on exhibition that Buckeye Aha! Math Moments (BAMM) participated in at the COSI Science Fest event.

BAMM is a new outreach initiative from the Department of Mathematics at Ohio State. The initiative aims to increase the public awareness, appreciation and enjoyment of mathematics through a variety of activities, periodic events and long-term outreach projects.

During the event at COSI, there were activities for people of all ages and academic backgrounds. The activities were designed to encourage group collaboration and independent thinking, develop problem solving skills and naturally foster the use of mathematical-logical thinking. Adults and kids experienced and were challenged by the activities, puzzles and math-centric video games.

Everyone got the opportunity to experience that “Aha!” moment of solving problems and puzzles, and as a consequence, we hope they increased their interest or even fell in love with mathematics. The interactive activities also aimed to give a taste of what a mathematician does, what mathematics is, some history of mathematics and its applications. Most important, it was all designed to awaken mathematical curiosity and to leave the participants craving more BAMM.

Pentominoes were the most popular among the young participants. The students were absorbed in counting how many different polyominoes there were, in tesselating long strips and in creating all sorts of coloured shapes.

Other activities presented at the COSI Science Fest included the nonattacking queens problem, the knight's tours problem, forming convex shapes with tangram pieces and answering math riddles. Visitors admired and reflected on the properties of minimal soap-bubble surfaces formed on platonic solids, lights-out puzzles and a chaos game that formed a Sierpinski triangle.

These games, problems and puzzles are categorized as recreational mathematics. In his article, "The Utility of Recreational Mathematics," mathematician David Singmaster states that problems and topics in recreational mathematics should be understandable to the interested layperson, though the solutions (in case they are not open problems) may be harder, or almost impossible to fully explain and understand without some years of effort even for trained mathematicians. Recreational mathematics is one of 17 special interest groups of the American Mathematical Society and is the main area of mathematics from which BAMM selected the puzzles and problems for the COSI Science Fest.

Spring 2019 BAMM Events

Buckeye Aha! Math Moments school event"There should be another way to do it!" is what a student of the Red Oak Community School said when he and another student were looking for all possible ways to color the six faces of a cube where four faces needed to be red and the two remaining faces needed to be blue. The student couldn't believe that there were essentially only two different ways of doing it. The workshop closed with some platonic bubbles. The kids ran around admiring and popping the bubbles. We enjoyed visiting this community, and we plan to visit them every spring.

On March 21, we visited Upper Arlington High School for their Idea Day, an annual event mainly organized by the student community, at which they host talks and workshops in all areas of knowledge. In one of the two workshops we gave, students explored polyominoes.

A student confidently exclaimed, "For sure, a formula exists for counting them!" when she was exploring how many pentominoes, hexominoes and heptominoes there are. The student was astonished to learn no such formula exists yet. During most of the workshop, students were trying to build polyominoes with m holes using the fewest number of squares possible. They could not believe that the minimum number of squares that you need to build a polyomino with 11 holes is unknown.