Numbers Are Everywhere

Everywhere we look we find numbers. They are deeply rooted in our psyche for some reason… I blame Pythagoras.

Pythagoras taught us that numbers existed even before the universe itself. Numbers could explain the mysterious workings of nature and were to be revered as divine. Pythagoras’ religious and scientific views were, in his opinion, inseparably interconnected. In essence, Pythagoras was the first Numerologist. Numerology is the study of the purported divine or mystical relationship between a number and some coinciding observed (or perceived) event.

Numbers are everywhere.

Since Newton’s idea of the clockwork universe, Einstein’s “God does not play dice” in his dismissal of quantum mechanics, symbology like 666, superstitions tied to historical events like Friday the 13th, the 11:11 clock phenomenon, PISA, TIMMS, NAPLAN, MySchool, the governments ridiculus ploy to have students weight on report cards, the coming Big Data revolution, through to my use of RunKeeper…. 

Why are we so obsessed with numbers? What is the purpose of it all? These questions are deeply philosophical and you could spend your whole life studying them. In fact, some people do. Simply though, the ability to quantify everything gives us the illusion of control and uniformity that we so desperately seek.

This time of year the bloggers come out with their yearly reflections – how many posts they have made, how they need to better balance the dichotomy of their need for social recognition against their need for quality family time. These reflections include how many Twitter followers they have, how many tweets they made, how many retweets, how many badges they earned, how many views their youtube videos have had in comparison to the billion that Gangnam style has had.

Numbers are everywhere

Some would explain our obsession with numbers and quantifying as the Gamification of society. Maybe Jesse Schell’s tongue-in-cheek DICE talk, “When games invade the real world” was on the money. 

In 2012, when I was climbing the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall of China, 45 miles outside Beijing, a girl no older than 10 years of age was counting the stairs. “497, 498, 499.” I asked her why she was counting the stairs and she replied, “To see how many there are”, looking at me incredulously. It was right then that it occurred to me – sometimes numbers are just that. Numbers. They can mean whatever you want them to. Or they can mean nothing at all. 

We need to take ourselves a little less seriously. I know I do.

The video below shows how we often turn to play and games to pass time, and how all of us have at some stage in our lives created whimsical games when confronted with similar contexts. At some stage we were all game designers – a time in our lives when numbers were just that. Numbers.

This year’s motto was “Do something.”

My motto for 2013 is “Forget the Numbers.”

What’s yours?

Happy New Year Everyone.

Learning Through Games: Student Success Stories

The Inaugural Games for Change Australia/New Zealand Festival was recently held in Melbourne on November 15th & 16th. I was delighted to be one of the Curators for the conference together with having the opportunity to give a brief talk.

Find the recording & slides to Learning Through Games: Student Success Stories below.

Gaming Graph Theory

The Seven Bridges of Königsberg is an important historical problem in mathematics, explored by Leonhard Euler in 1735, that laid the foundations of graph theory and topology.

The city of Königsberg in Prussia (now Kaliningrad, Russia) was set on both sides of the Pregel River, and included two large islands which were connected to each other and the mainland by seven bridges.

 Mathematically the problem can be stated like this:

Given the graph above, is it possible to construct a path (or a cycle – a path starting and ending on the same vertex) which visits each edge exactly once?

Euler proved that it was not possible. He proved that for the existence of what he coined “Eulerian trails”, it is necessary that no more than two vertices have an odd degree; this means the Königsberg graph is not Eulerian. Mathematically, if there are no vertices of odd degree, all Eulerian trails are circuits. If there are exactly two vertices of odd degree, all Eulerian trails start at one of them and end at the other. A graph that has an Eulerian trail but not an Eulerian circuit is called semi-Eulerian.

This type of mathematics can be quite abstract for students (and teachers) and most find it quite difficult even when presented in context of network optimization, railway systems, traffic flow, shortest path problems etc. 

One Touch Drawing by Ecapyc Inc. is a nice puzzle game on iOS that deals exclusively with Graph Theory. It could be a nice way to get students thinking about Graph Theory before the topic is introduced and then used as a context for discussion and problem solving to give the topic more meaning to students. I have only played the first few levels, the the difficulty ramps quite quickly. Recommended.