Monthly Archives: April 2011

The Dance

I have the odd little habit of finding the prime factorizations of numbers that come across my path (mile markers, page numbers, etc.). I regularly factor whatever page number I’ve told my students to turn to in their textbooks. For some reason, this is awe-inspiring to them.

Yesterday I was speaking with my calculus class about a particular number being prime, and I explained why I stopped checking factors once I got to the number’s square root. “Wow,” they said. (Note that my calculus class is comprised of three students, all of whom have gifts in mathematics, but only one of whom would say he likes the subject.)

I replied, “Aren’t numbers beautiful?”

They asked if I had considered decorating my two-year-old daughter’s room in numbers. While I acknowledged the awesomeness of that suggestion, I corrected them: “Not numerals. Numbers are beautiful…the mathematics, the relationships between the numbers, the way they work with one another.”

D said, “But it’s a cold beauty.”

No, I said, it’s not cold at all; it’s a dance.

He countered that language is a dance.

I replied, “But what is mathematics if not a way of expressing ideas? Isn’t that what language is, too?”

D answered, “If only there were a way to test the temperature of a dance!”

They may, and likely will, graduate without having a love for mathematics. But they’ll know that it’s possible to have such a love, because they’ve seen it from me…and maybe they’ll be a little more likely to look for the beauty, to watch the numbers dance.