Math in the Movies -where was this when I needed it!

Maths has never been one of my strong points. I coped just fine until I hit year 9 and they started introducing letters into Maths problems. My brain couldn’t cope with this and my burgeoning career as a Astrophysicist went out the window. I had to settle for a career based on where I felt letters belonged – between the pages of books!

Now, had I had a Maths teacher who introduced new concepts with a snippet from a movie and who could have shown me how I could apply that concept to a real life situation, then my story could have been completely different. I often read Dan Meyer’s blog and contemplate how I think I would be engaged in his lessons. He thinks of novel ways to use new technology to relate concepts to students. I remember those discussions with teachers which always started with me asking, ‘When am I ever going to use this in life?

The other day, Carey Pohanka posted a link on Twitter about Mathematics in Movies, a page on a site run by Oliver Knill, who is from the Dept. of Mathematics at Harvard University. He’s teaching Linear algebra  and applications this semester, but he’s also providing assistance to Maths teachers everywhere by doing this;

This is a collection of movie clips in which Mathematics appears. I’m collecting DVDs and VHS tapes of such movies. This is a working document to be extended over time. I started this page during spring break 2006. See also the page “Begin of lectures in college teaching” and “End of lectures in college teaching”. To see the movies larger, watch the quicktime ipod version, which are files with .m4v extension. 


I just love ‘hooks’. The little bit of the unusual or different that get me thinking about things in a different light. If a speaker begins with something engaging I’m usually there with them for the long haul. It must be the same for the kids we teach. I like to use quotes to engage students and set the tone for a lesson. I taught for a semester at a school and thought those quotes were going over student’s heads, until one day I discovered a student diary left in a classroom. I flicked through it to find out who it belonged to, and discovered every one of those quotes carefully written out  in the pages of what was one of my student’s diaries.  Sometimes you just don’t even know the effect you are having. 

I like the thought of these Math in the Movies ‘hooks’ for students. I think they’d be able to relate to the visual medium to make a concept more relevant. Perhaps if you used them there would be less of those, ‘When am I ever going to use this in my life?’ questions that I’m guessing must rear their ugly head in many people’s Math’s lessons.

For another look at making maths relevant, take a look at Tania Sheko’s post, ‘I’m not good at maths but I could be’.  Excellent explanation of the site Real World Math and how to use Google Earth’s satellite imagery to add placemarks, annotations, photos and models, as well as measure distances and draw paths.

3 Replies to “Math in the Movies -where was this when I needed it!”

  1. We’ve both got maths on the brain! Astrophysicist, huh? Your first paragraph made me laugh! I think I’ll join you in learning maths the new way, especially since it involves films. The teaching strategies you mention not only hook students, they leave a lasting mark, as you discovered. I remember the teachers who made connections for me, and who engaged me in their own way, usually by taking a surprising perspective and even by using a little drama. Thanks for a great post, Jenny.

  2. Oliver Knill’s class “Teaching Math With a Historical Perspective” was by far the best class I have ever taken. Here’s his website:

    He took some of his material from The Math Book by Clifford Pickover, which a great book but pales in comparison to Oliver’s class material. Most of Oliver’s stuff he tediously constructed himself. I was sure he could have hacked into my home computer if he really wanted to, and that says nothing about his math abilities. His animations are truly mind-boggling. I wish I could take his class every semester for the rest of my life!

  3. Hello,
    I am a new teacher beginning in September, I love the idea of using movies as hooks. I will be teaching 7&8 grade math in focus. where can I find movies clips for my lessons (hooks)?

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