Home > Commentary, Maths, Pedagogy, Teaching > Happy Primes – Recreational mathematics

Happy Primes – Recreational mathematics

My year ten class are currently studying a unit on “types of number” so for the starter of today’s lesson we looked at the number 2013. We used some basic divisibility tests to see if it was prime and then drew a factor tree and expressed 2013 as a sum of its primes (3 x 11 x 61). The class were also set the task of finding the next and last years that there were consecutive digits (not necessarily in order) in the year. A group of three boys motored through the task in seconds and we ended up having a discussion about happy numbers, and whether or not 2013 is one. These lads will often mess around in class and can sometimes be hard to engage, but this sort of a task and discussion always hooks them and has them working really hard. The lesson reminded me of this clip from Dr Who (Series 3 (of the rebooted series) episode 7) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ee2If8jSxUo

The bit at the end of the clip is the reason I decided to mention it on here. The Dr says “Talk about dumbing down, don’t they teach recreational mathematics anymore?”, and I thought that perhaps more recreational mathematics should be involved. Obviously, the syllabus is there and needs to be covered, it also includes many topics that can be really fun, but topics such as these (the sort of maths I might do for fun on a weekend, the sort of task/puzzle/investigation that sparks questions I need to answer or just something with an intriguing name, such as a happy prime; a harshad number or sociable numbers) can be thrown into lessons as hooks, or even a full lesson could be given over to a more recreational topic if it is going to spark the enthusiasm that I saw in the three lads today. Getting pupils enthusiastic about Maths is one of my main goals in teaching, and I don’t see why that should be constrained just to the topics covered on the syllabus. I am going to endeavour to incorporate more of these topics into my lessons, and hope to be able to signpost pupils to places where they can study them further and read around the topics.

The librarian at school is keen to get pupils reading in all manner of ways and has approached me about having a display of maths books (not textbooks, but books about Maths pupils can read for fun, any suggestions are more than welcome) in my room. I am working with her to increase the maths section of the library, which is currently pretty dire, and hope that ideas like this will link in well and inspire the next generation of mathematicians. I hope that some of the pupils I teach can grow up and get the same enjoyment from Maths that I do. I see it often in my Year 13 class, and have seen it often in my top set year 7 and 8 classes. My year ten class are not the most motivated, but today is not the first time I’ve seen an activity spark this sort of interest! And I hope it will not be the last.


The sad state of the libraries maths section, you may notice a few “murderous maths” books, but nothing else!

UPDATE: The library now has a superb maths section, and an additional “satellite” maths collection in my classroom! (See this post)

  1. January 9, 2013 at 8:59 pm

    Books for fun:

    A Gebra Named Al, a novel by Wendy Isdell

    A Place for Zero by Angela Sparagna LoPresti

    A Very Improbable Story by Edward Einhorn

    Alice in Pastaland: A Math Adventure by Alexandra Wright

    Fractals, Googols, and Other Mathematical Tales by Theoni Pappas

    Grandfather Tang’s Story by Ann Tompert

    Math for Girls & Other Problem Solvers by Diane Downie, Twila Slesnick, Jean Kerr Stenmark

    Once Upon a Dime: A Math Adventure by Nancy Kelly Allenus

    Sir Cumference and the Dragon of Pi by Cindy Neuschwander

    Sir Cumference and the First Round Table by Cindy Neuschwander

    Sir Cumference and the Great Knight of Angleland by Cindy Neuschwander

    Sir Cumference and the Isle of Immeter by Cindy Neuschwander

    Sir Cumference and the Sword in the Cone by Cindy Neuschwander

    Sold! A Mothematics Adventure by Nathan Zimelman

    The Adventures of Penrose the Mathematical Cat by Theoni Pappas

    The Dot and Line by Norton Juster

    The Further Adventures of Penrose the Mathematical Cat by Theoni Pappas

    The Man Who Counted: A Collection of Mathematical Adventures by Malba Tahan

    The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

    Venn That Tune

    Women and Numbers: Lives of Women Mathematicians by Teri Perl

    • January 9, 2013 at 9:45 pm

      Thanks for this list, it is fantastic!

  2. January 10, 2013 at 11:33 pm

    Awesome post – but your episode history is *slightly* off.
    ’42’ is the seventh episode of the third series of the rebooted Doctor Who.
    ‘A Town Called Mercy’ is the third episode of the seventh series of the rebooted Doctor Who, and it aired a few months ago.
    Apart from that, the sad state of your school’s library collection isn’t surprising. My former high school had about half a dozen textbooks, that was it. Nothing to engage the students at all, which was really disappointing. I’ve started my own collection since finishing school, a mix of old and new books, and my oldest is an 1865 print of Isaac Todhunters ‘Algebra for Beginners’. Best wishes with getting it filled with things that students will enjoy, 🙂

    • January 11, 2013 at 9:48 am

      Hi, Thanks for the comment. Of course its Series 3 ep 7 rather than the other way round! I must have typed that in a rush! *Duh* – I will ammend.

  3. January 11, 2013 at 3:47 pm

    For your older students, Mathematicians in Love is a fiction work that’s heavy on the fiction and light on the math. Interesting for sci-fi fans, though.

    • January 11, 2013 at 10:18 pm

      Cheers, I will look into it.

  1. January 25, 2014 at 2:29 pm
  2. March 6, 2014 at 5:54 pm

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