During a recent breakfast sponsored by the National Math and Science Initiative, headed up by Tom Luce, I had the unique and thoroughly amazing opportunity of watching and interviewing Arthur Benjamin (Art), a Mathemagician and Professor at Harvey Mudd College in California. Harvey Mudd, a liberal arts college, specializes in science and engineering. It boasts well-rounded undergraduates from a liberal arts perspective. Forty percent of whom go on to receive PhD’s, one of the highest percentiles in the nation.
During his presentation, Art Benjamin demonstrated his ability to square numbers in his head, while the rest of us followed along and tried to beat him while using calculators. Even to the 7th percentile, he was faster than the calculator and of course the people using them. At one point he missed an answer by one point. His comment, ”I do occasionally make mistakes, like picking the wrong people.”
Art Benjamin used a book of calendars and people birthdays to ‘guess’ when someone’s birthday had fallen. He was right 100% of the time. Art has been squaring numbers for 30 years and he shows us his system that appears elegant, logical and simple. What was powerful about his presentation was that he demonstrated through logic that: (1) ordinary mortals can master this, and (2) everyday people can be better equipped to handle math.
Art Benjamin’s presentation ties in with the goal of the National Math and Science Initiative (NMSI) who is working to increase our competitive edge in the global marketplace through math and science, both of which are essential to move our economy forward. America’s 50 million public school students are not getting the math and science skills they need to prepare them for good jobs and to keep America competitive in the global economy.
NMSI is the public-private partnership that provides the ideas, inspiration, and resources to help America close the competitive gap. Check out their website to get an idea of the phenomenal and necessary work they are doing to assure we stay competitive in the global marketplace by utilizing our young people’s math and science ability. Their work has truly made an impact.