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Using Vampires, Zombies And Pizza To Teach Kids Math

An image from "The Book of Perfectly Perilous Math: 24 Death-Defying Challenges for Young Mathematicians" by Sean Connolly.

Author Sean Connolly is attempting the seemingly impossible — in his new book, he tries to make math fun.

He takes square roots, the Pythagorean Theorum and algebra and throws in vampires, zombies and Edgar Allen Poe to challenge kids to figure out, for instance, how long it would take one vampire to take over a town of 500,000 people, if the vampire bites 2 people a month. (Hint: those two people are then vampires the next month and can bite two more innocent victims each!)

He also asks kids to figure out how a group can cross a rope bridge in the dark with only one flashlight while danger lurks behind them or how to make a 40 gallon barrel of water last among five shipwrecked sailors.

“We want someone who’s comfortable with words to branch out into math and also the same thing happening in the other direction,” Connolly told Here & Now’s Robin Young.

His new book is “The Book of Perilous Math: 24 Death-Defying Challenges For Young Mathematicians”

Guest:

  • Sean Connolly, author of “The Book of Perfectly Perilous Math: 24 Death-Defying Challenges for Young Mathematicians.”

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  • Martha Haug

    I think there was flawed logic in the vampire puzzle.  At the end of the first month there would be four vampires.  Vampire A bites person B sometime during the month, then they each bite another person before the end of the month, yielding 2 more vampires. Those 4 each bite a person during the next month yielding 8 total vampires,  who then each bite a person before the end of the month yielding 16 vampires at the end of month 2.  So each month the # of vampires multiples times 4 until you reach 524,288 at the middle of month 10.

  • Xellofalk

    In the vampire equation an important variable is missed.  While the human population of the town would be decimated within 12 months, during the 12th month the vampire’s food supply would become nonexistance thus causing extinction of the whole vampire population.

  • math geek


    Author Sean Connolly is attempting the seemingly impossible — in his new book, he tries to make math fun.”

    Sigh.

    When will reporters stop opening every article about mathematics with a casual reference to how math could never be fun.  You do realize a lot of people enjoy math right?  And that it’s not “seemingly impossible” to make math fun?  But because this is such a dull story to begin with you have to take a chance to make a belittling joke at the expense of math and those who enjoy it.  Thanks.

  • Ellen

    I liked your story — the book sounds like fun.  I have to agree with math geek, though, about using the sentence that contains, “attempting the seemingly impossible … to make math fun.”  To begin with, many of us already feel that math is fun, and secondly, there are so many educators who make it their lives work to make learning math enjoyable for those who struggle with it, and it feels like you are disrespecting all of them with that one sentence.

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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