Mathematical Puzzles in Life

Moderator: Gary Roodman
Time: Wednesdays, 9:30–11:30 am [Note: earlier time]
Place: Smith College, Dewey Hall, Common Room, Northampton
Parking: You will be issued a Smith campus parking permit

This workshop will help participants develop their skill in analyzing and resolving real-life puzzles with a greater reliance on mathematical thinking.

Almost every day we confront real-life puzzles that a little mathematical thinking can help resolve. This workshop will look at some of the puzzles that can be analyzed with basic, straightforward mathematics. Examples of questions we might consider include: In national elections, how can pollsters be so sure about their predictions when they only talk to 1000 people? Statistics show that the smallest states in the US tend to have the highest rates of brain cancer. Why is that?

What is the fairest way to tally the votes in an election where there are more than two people running? When a medical test that is “80% reliable” says that you are sick, what is the chance that you really are? Did you know that back in time somewhere your mother and father have a direct ancestor in common? In analyzing such questions, the emphasis will be on thinking mathematically rather than on doing a lot of fancy math. Even people who think they are not very good at math will enjoy the discussions. The moderator will explain things, as necessary, as we go along, and we will do calculations only when they help us think about an interesting question.

Format: Workshop

Role of participants: The moderator will take the lead initially by proposing some questions for participants to work on in small groups in class and report back to everyone. Thereafter, he hopes that participants, on their own or in small groups, will find interesting questions to analyze and bring to class. The moderator has lots of sources from which participants might draw ideas.

Number of participants (including the moderator): 15

Resources: The moderator will provide a bibliography and suggest resources to participants as topics arise.

The Moderator: The moderator of this workshop is not a mathematician, but he has been teaching and using mathematics to study interesting questions for many years. He will be available to assist participants who want to make presentations to the group.