It’s day 4 of the #loveyourmath campaign! One of the things I enjoy about doing mathematics is working on interesting problems that require a bit of creativity and/or cleverness. I especially like problems that don’t require you to know very much in advance. A few semesters ago we launched a course for mathematics majors, called MAT 220: Introduction to Mathematical Reasoning, whose main objective is to make students wrestle with exactly the types of problems I love. In particular, the focus of the course is on reasoning and communication through problem solving and written mathematical arguments in order to provide students with more experience and training early in their university studies. The goal is for the students to work on interesting yet challenging multi-step problems that require almost zero background knowledge. The hope is that students will develop (or at least move in the direction of) the habits of mind of a mathematician. The problem solving of the type in this course is a fundamental component of mathematics that receives little focused attention elsewhere in most mathematics programs.
Below are 15 problems from the course. Originally I was only going to list 5, but it was hard enough to only pick 15. I attempted to showcase a variety of problems that utilize different ways of thinking. I’m intentionally not providing any solutions. Some of these problems are classics or variations on classics. Have fun playing!
If you want to see more problems from the course, go here.
Note: The #loveyourmath 5-day campaign is sponsored by the Mathematical Association of America. The goal of the campaign is to engage a general audience across a broad representation of mathematics, whether it is biology, patterns, textbooks, art, or puzzles.
Mathematics & Teaching
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Flagstaff and NAU sit at the base of the San Francisco Peaks, on homelands sacred to Native Americans throughout the region. The Peaks, which includes Humphreys Peak (12,633 feet), the highest point in Arizona, have religious significance to several Native American tribes. In particular, the Peaks form the Diné (Navajo) sacred mountain of the west, called Dook'o'oosłííd, which means "the summit that never melts". The Hopi name for the Peaks is Nuva'tukya'ovi, which translates to "place-of-snow-on-the-very-top". The land in the area surrounding Flagstaff is the ancestral homeland of the Hopi, Ndee/Nnēē (Western Apache), Yavapai, A:shiwi (Zuni Pueblo), and Diné (Navajo). We honor their past, present, and future generations, who have lived here for millennia and will forever call this place home.