Tuesday, February 20, 2018

What is your function? More excuses to delay bedtime

J1 (5th grader, looking for an excuse to stay up): What are you working on?

J0: I'm writing a review of a book.

J1: The one we got from math circle (Martin Gardner's Perplexing Puzzlers and Tantalizing Teasers)? 

J0: No, the one about Funvillians.

From Natural Math!

J1: Tell them that it was fun!

J0: You really enjoyed reading it. I'll make sure to mention that. I was thinking that we should have used it as an inspiration to make our own adventures.

J1: You mean, like creating new characters with their own powers? We could have heroes who control fire and ice, some others that can go forward and backward in time.

J0: Is that how the Funvillian powers worked? I thought they needed to have inputs. For example Marge's power only works on two exactly identical objects.

J1: Sure, the current time is an input and the output is the time in 5 minutes. Or another one can do the reverse.

[pause, maybe he's starting to go to sleep?]
J1: Or... maybe we could make up some adventures where the Funvillians from the story have to solve their own challenges.  They could meet some villains... not Villians! (laughing)

J1: The one who can duplicate things ... what if that power could be used on people? After they were copied, would they all have to do the same things? For example, if I were copied and I raised my arm, would the other one have to raise his arm, too? Could they think different thoughts?

J0: Well, when they copied two toys, they could play with the toys separately. The toys didn't have to do identical things.

J1: Oh! But what if they were changed a tiny amount? Would they still be considered identical and could they get reduced down to one copy?

J0: I don't know. Where do you think the powers come from?

J1: maybe from living in their magical land. Probably when they have spent enough time there, a power develops.

J0: There, so that's what I'm going to write about. Thanks!

J1: Remember to tell them it was fun!

On Fridays for the last several months, my fifth grader and I have been spending 2 hours in the evening doing math together. By that time of the week, I'm not always feeling energetic enough to properly plan an activity or exploration. Looking to give myself a break, last week, I brought Sasha Fradkin's book Funville Adventures for J1 to read during the session.

He was engrossed and finished it with some amount of time to spare. Maybe 90 minutes of reading, leaving us 30 minutes to discuss.  He had read the addendum, so was already primed for talking about functions. In addition, he still remembered past conversations about "function machines" and programming functions. Using the characters as references, though, he found it much more intuitive to understand invertible and non-invertible functions. We talked about examples of arithmetic functions that were similar to different characters' powers and had fun giving examples of what would happen if different characters used their powers in succession.

The experience, so far, suggests that this is a helpful model for understanding functions, more human and vivid than what we'd previously done with function machines.

And remember, it was fun!
(now go to bed!)