Hilton Garden Inn - Stony Brook

Summer fun? Let's do some math

August 13, 2010 | 04:30 AM
For many children — and adults — that just about sums up the idea of mathematics.

But Stony Brook resident and mathematician Glen Whitney hopes that perception will change for visitors of the Math Midway exhibit at the Gallery on the Hill in Farmingville.

Whitney, who founded the Museum of Mathematics in 2008 to enhance public understanding of math, said the museum offers programs such as Math Midway to stimulate inquiry, spark curiosity and reveal the wonders of mathematics.

Designed as an interactive tour of mathematical concepts using a carnival theme, the exhibit in Farmingville allows visitors to participate in various hands-on activities including riding a square-wheeled tricycle, playing with human-sized geometric puzzles, using lasers to slice shapes in unusual ways and playing in a math fun-house that morphs pictures in real time.

Math Midway gives visitors a "chance to explore math where there's no one right answer, which is more true to what the essence of math is," said Whitney, a trustee on the Three Village school district's Board of Education. "We need kids with a sense of exploration and the ability to see math as an opportunity to explore."

On Friday morning, Aug. 6, Brookhaven Town Supervisor Mark Lesko and a group of children from the town's Youth Bureau Regeneration Camp joined Whitney at the exhibit, which is open on weekdays by appointment only from now until Sept. 21.

"This exhibit gives kids of all ages the opportunity to have fun and walk away with a new understanding and perception about mathematics," Lesko said in a statement. "It's a truly unique experience that families can share and I recommend it to everyone."

Brandon Raby, 10, said he enjoyed his time at Math Midway because he was able to "figure out how things work" by participating in hands-on activities. "Learning is more fun when there's activity," said Raby, a student at Holbrook Road School in Centereach.

Kristen Monroe, 9, agreed and said, "It's more fun than sitting in a classroom." Monroe, a student at Clinton Avenue School in Port Jefferson Station, said the exhibit has taught her that math "can be fun and not boring."

Also at the exhibit Friday was Cindy Lawrence, chief of operations for the Museum of Mathematics. Lawrence, a Port Jefferson Station resident, said Math Midway aims to change children's attitudes about math by presenting mathematical concepts in a way that sparks their interest.

Describing the exhibit as "fun, surprising, exciting and beautiful," Lawrence said, "Kids seldom see those qualities of math."

For appointments to visit Math Midway, call 444-0945 or email info@momath.org. The cost is $5 per person and for every 10 children, one adult is free.

Whitney, a former algorithm manager at the East Setauket hedge fund management company Renaissance Technologies, said he decided a few years ago to dedicate his time to sharing his love of mathematics, a subject that is "ubiquitous, super cool, under appreciated, poorly taught and even more poorly learned."

Math is "not just about whether I can add these fractions," he said. "It tells us how trees and flowers grow, how we should arrange roads and lights to ensure traffic flows well. There's intrinsic beauty and fun and excitement just in the pursuit of math."

Whitney, who now serves as the full-time executive director of the Museum of Mathematics, said the organization has continued to offer programs in various locations since its inception but still lacks a permanent home base. The goal, he added, is to establish the nation's first museum dedicated solely to mathematics in New York City by spring 2012.

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