Monday, July 4, 2016

Evens/odds and a quick update

Early years math seems to put a strange emphasis on even and odd numbers. Recently, a friend asked whether there was a point to this. Maybe it is just one of those little bits of terminology that we are asked to memorize for no reason?

By chance, this was something I had started considering about a month ago. It did seem strange that we spend so much time on this simple way of splitting integers. I wondered if it was worth the attention. From that point, my awareness was raised and I started noticing where it occurs and ways it links with more advanced concepts and future learning. My conclusion is that even/odd is surprisingly deep.

First, it is a simple version of concepts that will be developed further. For example, the alternating (starting with 0) even, odd, even,odd, even... is an illustration of a pattern. They will soon see other alternating patterns, then more complicated patterns and 2d or 3d patterns.

For another example, evens are multiples of 2, odds are numbers with a non-zero remainder when dividing by 2. This leads to understanding other multiple families, division, and division with remainder.

Second, the even/odd distinction is helpful for improved understanding of different calculations. For example, the observations that even+even = even, while odd + odd = even, etc. These can be used to help self-check their calculation and also will form early experiences with algebra. Similarly,
even x odd vs odd x odd reinforce understanding of multiplication. Again, this gets broadened for multiples of 3, 4, 5, etc.

Third, there are a lot of more advanced results that are easiest to prove by parity arguments. Sometimes we are working with a set of things that are even and the key observation is we can pair them up. Other times, we have a set that is odd and the key insight is that, when we pair them, one must be left over.

Recently, with the J1 and J2, we were looking at some constrained ways to put the numbers 1 to 25 on a 5x5 checkerboard. They were able to prove that some versions were impossible simply because 25 is odd, so there are more odd integers in 1 to 25 than even integers.

Lastly, there are techniques in computer science that involve even vs odd. This comes up pretty naturally because of the essential use of binary.

Some games

Recently, J1 and J2 have gotten hooked on some classic card games. In particular, we've been playing a lot of 3-handed cribbage. It is a nice way to do some simple addition practice and build intuition about probability. Probability is now getting even more share of mind: in the last couple of days we started playing poker together. This was actually inspired by some of our reading together.

We are reading the Pushcart War.

In one scene, there is a poker game. Of course, the J's insisted that I explain the game and were eager to try it out. J3 was the huge winner tonight, while I busted out. Oh well.

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