Published On: Sat, Apr 22nd, 2017

A Festival Where Math is the Highlight and Source of Entertainment

It’s interesting how you can take any subject and make it a festival.  When you think of festivals, you think of fun and games, clowns, music and food.  The festival we went to this weekend, though, the only topic was mathematics.  It was the National Math Festival, and I was curious how they would make math fun.

Math Festival DC

Held at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, there were several areas with a variety of events.  There were rooms with mathematical games, speakers, demonstrations and so forth.  We got there a bit late and just settled in on a couple of rooms with the games.

One of the games, if you can call it that, had a rope and two poles that could be removed from the ground.  The challenge was to wrap the rope around the poles so that if a dog was tied to it, it couldn’t get away, unless you removed only one of the poles.  Generally, when wrapping the rope around the poles, if you lifted one, the other pole still held the rope secure.  It definitely was one of those mind-puzzling challenges that even I struggled to understand.  Apparently, the trick is to use a crisscross pattern when stringing the rope around the two poles.

Math Festival DC
Math Festival DC
Math Festival DC
Math Festival DC

Another area had these huge blocks with splotches of black and white.  On a huge monitor on the wall, a pattern would be shown and you had to rearrange the blocks to match the pattern, flipping the block upside down, rotating them, etc.  The kids didn’t have trouble figuring it out; but the highlight was jumping up and down on the soft blocks.

Math Festival DC

At one of the demonstration tables, you were given several pieces of paper folded into triangles.  The goal was to slip the corners into the folds to form a cube.

Math Festival DC
Math Festival DC
Math Festival DC

One of the cooler demonstrations was a ring shining a laser light in its middle.  You had to take these objects with set shapes and position them in the light so that the light formed different shapes, that were not the same as the shape you were holding.  For instance, by angling a cube in the light so that the light passed through the translucent cube at a certain angle, you could form a triangle, square, pentagon and hexagon.  It was all about what parts of the cube was in the ring where the laser was shining.

Math Festival DC
Najwa was waiting for the balloon to burst when it touched the laser. She’s not into loud sudden sounds.
Math Festival DC
Math Festival DC
Math Festival DC

Scattered on the floor throughout the area were these large puzzles where you had to get from start to finish following a specific rule.  They were all pretty tricky, with rules like you can only make right turns, but quite interesting to figure out once you realize that it’s easier to figure out the correct path by mapping in your head how to get from the finish to where you’re standing.  At least it worked for me.

Math Festival DC
Math Festival DC

Then there was this puzzle where all the pieces were shaped the exact same and had no end to it.  If you had more pieces, they’d all fit, creating a huge pattern and always growing bigger.

Math Festival DC
Math Festival DC

There were also paper-based challenges and puzzles.  Najwa gave some a shot, but it wasn’t her thing.  Too one-dimensional compared to all the other activities.  They were mainly for the teens and adults, Najwa usually being the youngest person at a table.

Math Festival DC

The last demonstration we watched was a guy using toothpicks to do these trick challenges.  Such as, move only one toothpick to change the shape from a something to a something.  Sometimes, the solution wasn’t convention, like having to move three toothpicks to make four.  The solution being a Roman numeral four.

Most people couldn’t figure any of them, kind of the point, like a silly mathematical magician trick, but Najwa kept getting frustrated that she couldn’t figure any of them out, not realizing that essentially none of us could.

Math Festival DC
By only moving two toothpicks, make this field goal attempt a miss. Too bad I didn’t take a picture of the solution; and already forgot how he did it.

This was our first Math Festival, but we’ll be at as many of them as they have in DC.  There were TONS of kids out there, all of them being exposed to math, and math as something fun, intriguing and entertaining as opposed to something to dread in school.  As Najwa gets older, the challenges will become easier to grasp the concepts of how to solve them.  Even I struggled with many of them, though once the solution was presented, it seemed pretty obvious at that point.

My goal is to get Najwa so into math, STEM in general, that she’s the one showing me how to solve all these puzzles.  There’s too many opportunities out there for a career that pays very well, is quite rewarding and are in high demand.  Math skills are almost always a requirement for them, so we’re getting started early.

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About the Author

David Gaines

- David Gaines is a Washington, DC, resident transplanted from North Carolina whose dream career was a newspaper writer but settled for the recruiting industry and simply blogging about whatever thoughts crosses his mind.

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