A Trip to the Museum of Math

Posted on Aug 09, 2016 - 09:19am by Launch

Recently, I was fortunate enough to spend some time at the Museum of Mathematics on East 26th Street here in New York City. Prior to arriving, I mainly knew that the museum tried to get people to see how interesting and beautiful math can be. During the visit, this is something that definitely stands out as many of the exhibits deal with patterns and unique shapes that are incredibly beautiful in both their original form and become more interesting after changing in a variety of different ways, whether it’s by spinning in a chair from the center of the shape as with the hyper hyperboloid, by simply passing by it as with some of the artwork on the walls or twisting knobs using the formula morph.

The most interesting part of the trip to me though was looking at the fact that, despite the incredibly high level of mathematics many of these exhibits require in order to really understand what is happening and the shapes you’re seeing, a level of mathematics much higher than the vast majority of students there would be able to understand, the students who were there still thoroughly enjoyed the exhibits due to their interactive, beautiful and/or unique features. When you look at students who were enjoying spinning in the chair to change the shape in the hyper hyperboloid, they loved the changes they were seeing and wanted to know how many rotations they could make despite presumably not knowing anything about what a hyperboloid even is. Another great example was in the lower level, or what is cleverly referred to as the -1st floor, where there is a “fire wall.” This was a thin red line with a handful of clear, 3-D shapes next to it that you could put under the “fire wall” in order to create a variety of 2-D shapes in red. These shapes, which can range from triangles to quadrilaterals, hexagons, octagons and other polygons, are interesting to see and fun for kids and something that continues to be fun as the more mathematics one knows the more they understand how to place the 3-D object in order to create the type of polygon they want to see.

I also enjoyed looking at all the puzzles and games the museum had in their gift shop. These games all seem to be in line with the mission of the museum as a whole, as all of them use complex mathematical concepts in a way that allows even younger students to enjoy them but retain their intrigue as you understand more and more of what makes them work and look the way they do. It also allows for students who enjoyed their experience to continue working on something that will help them better understand mathematical concepts such as patterns and/or logic. I originally wanted to spend time at the Museum of Mathematics due to the fact they have a very similar goal as we do at Launch Math & Science Centers, to get students interested in the world of math, just in a different way. Overall, the trip exceeded my expectations due to the ability for the vast majority of the exhibits and games offered at the museum to be enjoyed in different ways by students of vastly differing mathematical abilities, a feat that is not easy to execute properly.

- Eric at Launch