In her 2019 ANN Under 10 talk, Making Math Viral, Christin Smith (KY) tries to resolve the paradox of people saying, "I am not a math person" with people sharing "viral math problems" over social media. In part, Christin chalks it up (pun intended) to a misconception of what it means to do math. In school, students learn that math was about right and wrong, speed, and knowing the procedures. Christin's goal in analyzing the phenomenon was to see what there is for us to learn what we can about the appeal of viral math problems. It is more than just using viral math problems in class. Christin's take is that there are two elements that give viral math problems their power: (1) they peak curiosity and (2) they promote controversy.
Another aspect of viral math problems is their location. They are curiosity peaking, controversy promoting, social experiences that happen outside of the classroom.
In the last several years, there have been some grassroots explorations of where it means to do math. We are collecting some resources on this page to offer some inspiration for the doing of math in public spaces. Join the movement!
Please share any pictures of math in public spaces, either using the hashtags mentioned below (don't forget to add #ANNMath) or email them to firstname.lastname@example.org
Let's chalk up our streets, broaden what it means to do math, spark curiosity and conversation (and use #sidewalkmath to tell each other about it).
#SidewalkMath is a hashtag made popular by Brian Palacios, a HS math teacher in the Bronx, NY. It is used by teachers, parents, and caregivers (but mostly teachers) across the US who leave math on the sidewalk and engage their communities, children and adults alike, in math conversations.
- Dr. Benjamin Dickman taught a class at the Hewitt School in NYC called Problem Solving and Posing. As part of the class his students chalked up city sidewalks with math problems for passersby to explore.
- Benjamin's class also created a #SidewalkMath Encyclopedia, collecting curiosity peaking problems from #sidewalkmath photos on Twitter.
Math Walks was started in March 2020 by Traci Jackson to encourage math discussion during quarantine. Photos of the math she has left along her path can be found at Math Walks. Other folks have been inspired by Traci's project. You can see what they have shared on Twitter using #MathWalks
‘Math With Me MN’ is a community engagement initiative out of St. Paul, Minnesota. Students and teachers, collectively, will create math installations and experiences in their homes and communities designed to connect people to each other and to mathematics.
A ‘math installation’ is a math experience that gets people to think about math in a friendly, approachable way:
- To reignite joy and play in (distance) learning, and to maximize student agency.
- To see and experience mathematics in our homes, our communities, our public spaces.
- To start closing the ‘distance’ in distance learning.
"A mathematics trail is a walk to discover mathematics. A math trail can be almost anywhere—a neighborhood, a business district or shopping mall, a park, a zoo, a library, even a government building. The math trail map or guide points to places where walkers formulate, discuss, and solve interesting mathematical problems. Anyone can walk a math trail alone, with the family, or with another group. Walkers cooperate along the trail as they talk about the problems. There’s no competition or grading. At the end of the math trail they have the pleasure of having walked the trail and of having done some interesting mathematics."
Math Trails is a guide to blazing your own math trail.
PUBLIC MATH: Where every person is a math person.
This group of educators creates mathematical opportunities in the spaces that diverse children and families inhabit and interact with in their daily lives. Check out their website, Public Math, and learn more about their projects: free postcards (order two today - for you and a friend), coasters, laundromats, zines. They even have an IOS sticker packet for your smartphone that allows you to add a prompt (What do you notice? What do you wonder? How Many? Which One Doesn't Belong? etc.) to your photos and videos.
Math-On-A-Stick is a welcoming space where kids and grown-ups can explore fun math concepts at the Minnesota State Fair.
Math-on-a-Stick's Twitter Feed
In the summer of 2019, ANN's annual board meeting was held in Minnesota at the same time as Math-on-a-Stick and the board was able to volunteer on a day sponsored by I Am ABE. Read more in this article from the Math Practitioner, ANN Goes to Math-On-A-Stick, August 2019