Math Heroes

I want my students to have math heroes. This is another aspect of my commitment to consciously cultivating values in my classroom this year.

Lots of kids have sports heroes and music heroes. It’s not uncommon for them to have literary heroes or science heroes. But math heroes are something of a rarity.

Why? I’m not really sure. Is it because kids have little exposure to contemporary mathematicians? That the math that “famous” mathematicians do can be opaque, inaccessible, or unrelatable? Or because it can be hard to tell a good math “story” because mathematicians’ achievements are so abstract?

Whatever the reason, I know that if someone is going to have a personal connection to a subject or pursuit, it helps a lot if they have heroes—people to look up to, people to cheer for, people whose work and achievements they just can’t get enough of. People who are both very human and larger-than-life.

Sharing the work and human stories of mathematicians—present and past—is one part of what thrills me about co-writing Math Munch for my students and others. But in addition to this online locale, I find myself with the desire to share my own math heroes with my student in concrete, present-in-the-classroom kinds of way. Even further perhaps, I want to model how enthusiasm for a mathematician can be shown and shared.

For a while I’ve had the thought of setting aside a space on the wall of my classroom for the celebration of math heroes. I’ve tinkered with this thought just a little. Year before last I had a student who made a nice drawing of Augustus de Morgan during our 7th grade logic unit. But I realized that if this “math hero wall” was really going to take off, I’d have to put my money where my mouth is. So last summer, I sketched out this idea for a portrait of Felix Klein, who is one of my math heroes.

And then, of course, the school year started up.

Then two weeks ago, I was feeling like I needed a really concrete project to take on, and my mind went to my Klein sketch. After an initial couple of hours, and then some further detail work a few days ago, things now stand here.

I just need to add his name toward the bottom, and the names of the four objects that surround him. They’re all named after Klein. Clockwise from the bottom-left, they’re his quartic, his bottle, his model, and his four-group.

Hopefully my painting will serve as a good anchor for my room’s math hero wall. I’m looking forward to seeing what it helps to inspire my students to do this year. Drawings? Collages? Sculptures? And most of all, to have math heroes of their own?

Plus, I’m pretty pumped to have made a painting myself and to get to share it with you!

Read more of this week’s #made4math posts here!

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7 responses to “Math Heroes

  1. Pingback: First NBI (and ever!) post « David Price

  2. Love the painting!
    And yes, this is a great idea I chanced upon in my practice. I don’t do it enough really but when I do, the effect is amazing. Magic happens when students realise these abstract things where thought up by real people.

    I once started off year 9 Coordinate Geometry via Descartes’ “sor sum ergo sum” philosophy….which then served to challenge the students to put their thinking caps on.

    I also serendipitously found a year 7 class maths hero in Polya. more of that story here.

    I reckon we could draw upon our own PLN as heroes….though I haven’t done this yet.

    • Great stuff on Polya, and great connections for your students. Making math about people–us in this classroom, and world and time apart, too–is definitely a big goal for me. And PLN heroes definitely count!

  3. What a cool idea! Thanks for sharing!

  4. Not fair when you can draw beautifully like that, Justin! :) Hmmm, I do plan to feature a mathematician of the week (from AIMS). Nice idea!

    • :) I’ve taught many students who are better painters than me, but I’m pretty happy with how it’s turning out. And I’m glad to have done something that I wanted to do. I hope even just that fact kindles something in my students. I feel like I don’t often enough share things I’ve made that I’m proud of with with my students. They need that mindset modeled, I think.
      Could you share the link to the AIMS “mathematician of the week” site? I haven’t been able to locate it, and it sounds supersweet.

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