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Math and Television

  1. Jun 10, 2004 #1
    Would a television show about mathematics not directed at young children be a good idea? Would anyone watch it? I’m wondering because I’ve seen programs about almost every other topic except for math. The only exceptions I can think of were Square One, a show from the mid 80s to early 90s that was on PBS, and a few other PBS shows, but again, they were mostly directed at children.

    What are your thoughts? Anyone feel like pitching an idea to the Discovery Channel? :smile:
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 10, 2004 #2


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    It sounds like fun... but then, I'm a physicist.

    Maybe the reason why "Math TV" is not out for teens or high schoolers is that, by then, the kind of concepts to be studied are better learned by solving problems oneself, and also the people that would see the programs probably wouldn't need to.
  4. Jun 11, 2004 #3
    Any math oriented tv show is something I'm for. Not that I dislike physics oriented (hey, there aren't enough of those either!) shows, but math being my most favorite subject, I think I'd like to pitch in. Let's send a word in to Discovery Channel!

    On a more realitic side, they may say "no" for obvious reasons. How many people are willing to sit down and watch a show about mathematics? It's all about ratings in the tv industry over learning. You could always rent documentaries or something.
  5. Jun 11, 2004 #4


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    I know it's not a math program, but I heard the ratings for PBS's presentation of the elegant universe were stellar. I didn't really learn anything I didn't already know from it, but a few of my liberal arts friends were captivated by it and became more interested in physics and math.
  6. Jun 11, 2004 #5

    matt grime

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    Move to the UK. There are plenty of kids fun shows with mathematical content as well as serious educational ones from basic kindergarten level stuff up to, in the case of Open University programs, degree mathematics.
  7. Jun 13, 2004 #6
    I remember seeing a documentary on the Mandelbrot set when I was younger that piqued my interest in mathematics and computational geometry, although it was not sufficient to overcome my seething resentment of the subject at that age.
  8. Jun 13, 2004 #7
    One stipulation: The host must look and act like the average human being.
  9. Jun 13, 2004 #8


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    there were shows from the bbc (horizon) on topics such as fermat last theorem and a programme about fractal geometry and chaos. (but they werent much technical).
  10. Jun 13, 2004 #9
    Math Tv sounds good... except it would be hard to actually do. The problem is that the program would be that it would have to go very slowly to allow watchers to write stuff down. Generally math programs are better for video or dvd... so you can pause or rewind. However a general math progrm where very little math is actually calculated or you just watch ohter calculate things or explain theories may work
  11. Jun 13, 2004 #10
    That is such a great idea! I think it would work best if it explained different mathematical theories, you know? One hour on a specific topic should work. What you could also do is they could offer a little booklet of exercises that you can call and order.
  12. Jun 13, 2004 #11


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    The only problems I can see with such a program is an audience, or should I say the lack of one. People within the US are taught from a young age to have a disdain for anything mathematical, starting from grade school. Most people have no problem claiming how inept they are at math. I relate strongly to this, since it wasn't until I turned 18 or 19 that I actually began to gain an interest in it, after I found I would need to to do physics. Changing people's attitudes about the subject early on would be a great way to generate more interest, which means paying grade school math teachers a little more.
  13. Jun 14, 2004 #12
    How do you suggest we/you make this brilliant idea a reality?
  14. Jun 14, 2004 #13


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    An idle thought I once had was: prestigous universities which pay top-dollar to prominent scientists (and I'll throw mathematicians in the mix too) ought to consider selling videos of the lectures. Yeah, the audience for such videos would be small, but the production costs could be kept minimal. Just edit out moments when the professor pauses to page through his book to figure something out, that sort of thing. Another step up in production would be to provide some graphics to wedge into the lecture now and then, elaborating on what the professor is saying. Nothing fancy.

    I would certainly pay some money to have a DVD showing Feynman teaching physics at Cal Tech in the mid 1960s, for instance.
  15. Jun 14, 2004 #14
    Math TV on the web

    I found a web site called Math TV whose author is trying to create a math show for middle school students. In the internet version, a teenage math whiz named Infinity Quick hosts a weekly math show where she responds to questions sent in by students. The solutions are presented in video format. After viewing the video, students can solve a similar problem interactively.

    It's a great concept but I believe the site is created and maintained by one individual. Maybe she'd be interested in partnering up with someone.
    The link is http://www.MathTV.org
  16. Jun 14, 2004 #15
    I would love it but I don't know how it would catch on. I think if it was kind of a modern style documentary it would be very interesting, focusing on the people and "beauty" of mathematics as well as dicussing technical material. Although, if it leans too far on the technical side it will not be very likely to succeed. An example is the fact, despite the explosion of it, there are no really technical shows discussing computing technology and networking; you may first think "Well what about Tech TV?" but that is not really technical and is aimed at mostly novices and gaming enthusiasts. But, if nothing else, all the mathematics related movies I have seen have been very successful, such as Pi and A Beautiful Mind.
  17. Jun 15, 2004 #16


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    That's true, but the only problem I see with both is in the affirmation of the public perception of what math is. Something done by antisocial, crazy people. People watch these movies to make themselves feel better about their failings in math. They were'nt crazy to begin with, so it shouldn't phase them. How many movies based on math don't involve neurotic central characters?
  18. Jun 15, 2004 #17
    I've just made a 12-minute long amateur math video for my class. All I can say is that it is not very easy to engage a teen's attention when you start throwing around mathematical terms. MathTV wouldn't have a market, even though most of us on this website would sign up for it. However, AmateurMathTV would be something different. The math version of the Discovery Channel would do well in the right hands.

    Incidentally, I picked up video editing earlier this year. So, if any of you are looking into starting up a Company making math documentaries, please wait till I graduate, or at least reserve a space for me. ;)
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