Exploding Bananas and Math

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Today I was reminded of Gorillas, a game where you lob exploding bananas at your opponent. (You can play a Flash version of the game here)

You are given two variables to control: Angle and Velocity. Get the right combination of the two, and, blam! your opponent is a cloud of red pixels.

Think about that: At the tender age of nine I was working with angles and velocity--not to mention that pesky notion of multiple possible solutions based on two variables in a function. I would not return to these concepts until I was in high school physics. And, surprisingly, by the time I got there, the subject was at lot more difficult.


Because rather than learning how velocity and angle relate to each other in a parabolic arch--ignoring, as we always do, wind resistance--I was forced to memorize the mathematical equations and computations needed to solve for the function. It was dull and uninspiring. In fact, I really didn't like it. Except for the one assignment where we rolled a marble down a ramp and attempted to hit the center of a target on the floor. That was applied mathematics. And it was fantastic.

The thing about Gorillas is that it is not--at heart--an educational game. The "educational" bits are left off (e.g. equations). So, sure, Gorillas didn't teach me the formula, but it did teach me very high level concepts. And while Physics taught me the formulas and computation, it didn't really teach me the problem solving skills.

I found the TED talk linked from Mary Mimouna's post to be fascinating. In it, Conrad Wolfram argues that we should stop teaching computation and start teaching math.

On the one hand, memorizing the basics of computation and equation building helps a ton when you're trying to figure something out. On the other hand, I think a lot more kids would discover that they love math if it had more to do with exploding bananas and less to do with "show your work" and "don't use a calculator."

The more I hear about math education, the more excited I am about MathTacular. We designed these DVDs to teach the concepts and demonstrate the calculations. I think it's a great balance.

What do you think of the Experimentation/Computation tension?

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester

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