Thursday, October 21, 2010

Happy Birthday Martin Gardner

Tonight I went to a different type of party--it was a celebration of the life of American mathematician Martin Gardner, who died earlier this year at the age of 95.  Martin Gardner is considered to be the father of recreational math, because he focused on exposing people to fun mathematics through games, puzzles, toys, and such.  He wrote math columns in popular magazines, such as Jack and Jill and Scientific America, that first brought broad exposure to such math topics as fractals, tangrams, M. C. Escher, and other math-related games and puzzles.

The evening was called "Gathering for Gardner:  Celebration of Mind," and there were over 60 parties of this type taking place around the world on this date.  All the parties had a common theme:  to honor the life's work of this extraordinary man by having people come together to play with math.

Our particular gathering was focused on the intersection of math and art.  It was organized and run by two women who are very important to our family:  Maria Droujkova of Natural Math, who is a great friend and works with my son to find his passion for mathematics, and Jenny Eggleston of Egg in Nest studio,  who is a wonderful artist and an intuitive and effective art coach/teacher for my son.  Both women have a great talent for understanding each student with his or her unique talents and challenges, and individualizing their instruction to provide each one with just the assistance s/he needs.   So spending an evening with them, and some other friends who are homeschooling parents and teen, is going to be valuable, regardless of what we do.  

We began by making 3-D sculptures out of drinking straws and/or pipe cleaners.  Then we admired some fantastic origami, art, and artistic videos related to numbers in nature.   But the bulk of the evening was spent playing "The Glass Bead Game," which was inspired by Herman Hesse's book of the same name.  We covered a long table with a roll of white paper and drew around small plates to form our first set of glass beads.  We were given a question to answer visually, and we drew our answers inside our own beads.  Then we found someone else's bead that inspired us, drew a new bead close to it, and drew a picture that "rhymed" visually with the first bead (as well as drawing a line of connection between the two).  We did this for a couple of rounds, and soon the paper was filled with all sorts of visualizations related to math, life, death, the universe, and Jackie Chan (that last one was my fault...I kind of got off track a bit).

Anyway, it was a fun and thought-provoking night and a great way to recognize a great mathematician.


  1. That was fun. I will have more media up some time soon. Meanwhile, here's a link to that Rhyming Pictures community that inspired part of the game:

    Here's one of longer threads, from 2003:

  2. Thanks for adding that link, Maria. I know my husband needs to see a picture of rhyming pictures--my explanation didn't do the concept justice.