Footpath Math was born of a recurring daydream. I used to walk past a parking ramp at 9th and Colorado on my way to work in Austin, Texas. The multi-storied wall of this ramp is covered in 5-foot squares of cement. I would imagine charting enormous graphs of sine and cosine on that wall. Scaffolding seemed a bit of a stretch, so I took to sidewalks. Over the years, I have found many great locations just waiting to be home, even if temporarily, to public displays of mathfection.
I have appreciated math since I was young, and in college I let math take a central role in my life. I loved to learn, and, working as a math tutor, I discovered how much I love to be present with people who are learning. Eventually, this love of learning brought me back to the classroom.
As a teacher, the name of the game for me has been to create environments where students are most likely to learn. Sometimes this means removing distractions such as food, phones, and disrespect. Sometimes this means engaging in conversations about fear and vulnerability. (It takes something to admit when we are stuck.) And, sometimes this means bringing life to what could otherwise devolve into a crushing march of procedures.
One way to give meaning to mathematics is to discuss its application. Mathematics gives us the means to investigate important phenomena such as heat moving through an object. Mathematics also gives us the means to answer less important questions such as how much your toothpaste costs per ounce. It is okay to be playful with mathematics. It is not limited to finding out what time two trains will meet if one leaves Penn Station at….
Mathematics comes to us through the work of human beings. Human beings who have hopes, dreams, and families. Human beings who make time to think about questions of quantity, structure, and change. Human beings who are thinking about important and not so important questions. The key is that they are thinking, and, believe it or not, their way of thinking is not so different from ours.
Einstein said, “The whole of science is nothing more than a refinement of everyday thinking.” This is very much the case for mathematics. Everyday thinking enhanced by stamina, precision, and reason leads to mathematical thinking. Hopefully, this will be evident in some of the posts.
Footpath Math is a project in sharing my journey in the refinement of thought, the humanity, and the playfulness of mathematics. As I explore the conceptual, historical, and visual aspects of math topics, I use chalk to challenge and expand my thinking. I take pictures; I make notes; and I give them a home here. I hope you find something of value here.
P.S. I use LaTeX, a typesetting language for mathematics, for my formulas and equations. For non-chalk images and drawings, I tend to use the drawing features in Google Drive. My chalk comes from Crayola®. The math is a gift of human ingenuity.