Bored in math class? Don’t worry; your nonsensical doodles are actually the same math your teacher is lecturing about.
Vi Hart (YouTube channel: vihart) is one of many educators on YouTube who make videos to simultaneously teach and entertain. Hart is both a mathematician and a musician–a “mathemusician”–so her videos tend to explore mathematical ideas, sometimes even musically. In one video, for example, she sings the digits of pi.
Her “Doodling in math class” videos are her most popular uploads. In these videos, Hart starts by doodling normally, just as many high school students do in their math classes. As the video progresses, the doodles become more and more complicated as she experiments with different versions of the original doodle. Eventually, she reveals that the math lecture and her doodles explore the same mathematical ideas.
Another of her videos explains how to make “hexaflexagons,” little hexagons made from strips of paper and tape that flip in and out. I spent a month or so last year folding hexaflexagons out of paper scraps and leaving them in public spaces for other people to find.
That is the important part of what Hart and other YouTube educators are doing–they are providing education and knowledge to everyone. Anyone can draw increasingly smaller elephants or count seeds in sunflowers, so Hart’s videos makes math seem less like an abstract subject to study for tests and more like a way of defining and organizing the ordinary world.
Even within the YouTube educational community, Hart is unique. Her videos are beautiful and artistic while still being informative, but she also has a delightful sense of fun and absurdity. She calls her fractals dungeons or dragons (depending on the fractal), marks the Fibonacci spirals on plants with glitter glue and whispers, “snake snake snake,” as she wiggles rubber snakes across the screen.
Hart teaches students how to discover things for themselves and how to learn without just blindly memorizing formulas, thus giving students a perspective on the universe which they might have otherwise missed. Maybe if someone picks up one of the hexaflexagons I leave around, I too can help spread these ideas just a little bit further.
By EMMA REMY