Math Author Helps Students Understand Secrets of Numbers

Mathematics author Greg Tang presents to students at McKinley Elementary School.

For Greg Tang’s visit to McKinley Elementary School today he was billed as an author, which he certainly is. But it would be more accurate to call him a math whiz and more precise still to label him a magician. Maybe mathician describes him most accurately, given all the tricks he performed with numbers in his workshops today. And best of all, unlike just about all of your rank and file, card-carrying magicians, he shows his audiences how the tricks are done.

That’s the point – to let kids in on the secrets so they can try them, too, at home or in school.

Tang is a big proponent of looking for easy ways out – when it comes to math problems. And he’s very practiced and polished at demonstrating for kids how to break seemingly big numbers down into more manageable parts.

Let’s say you need to know the product of 11 x 453. Okay, 11 is a 10 and a 1. Then you add the 4 and the 5, so there’s a 9. Then you add the 5 and the 3, so there’s an 8. And you know the first and last numbers will be a 4 and a 3, right? So the answer is 4,983 – isn’t it? Who needs pencil and paper or, perish the thought, a calculator?!

Now, on to some nine-number puzzles – there’s one in each that represents the sum of two of the others. Who can find it? Quickly, quickly! Next puzzle, etc. Let’s see, it took us 2:32 to solve them all; not bad. The average adult requires three minutes+. On the other hand, there’s an 11 year-old kid in Baltimore who got ‘em all in less than 10 seconds!

You get the idea. Agility drills for mental mathematicians. Good thing the workshops were held in the morning. All that exercising and ciphering really whetted some appetites for lunch!

Photos of Author Visit to McKinley School

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