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Numbers and Shapes Everywhere

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I look for—and find—interesting mathematical (numeric and geometric) properties and patterns everywhere.

This blog entry was written on April 14, 2014. That’s 4.14.14 (when written using a common U.S. notation), which is a numeric palindrome. That makes me wonder how many other palindromic dates I have already lived through. A quick investigation shows that this is my 76th palindromic date—and that we are in the midst of a run of nine palindromic dates (April 11 through April 19, 2014) over a two-week period.

My children and I also talk about how long it is until the next upside-down time. For example, at 12:21 and 8:08, the time appears on our digital clocks in such a way that if you stand or your head—or even easier, turn the clock upside down—the digits look the same as they did originally (12:21 and 8:08, ignoring the colon when necessary). This gets my kids and me thinking about number representations and doing mental math for fun. It has also produced a special time of day for us, which we call, “When the clock says Bob.” (Talk to me again at 8:08 for more details.)

I also look at geometric patterns and think about them all the time. This morning, I saw a set of six squares arranged like this: 


Mentally, I tried to imagine how this hexomino design might tessellate. Pretty soon, I had an image in my mind of how these pieces would fit together. 



I have come to understand that this is just how I see the world—in numbers and shapes. I also understand that this is not how everyone sees the world, but I think that introducing my students and my own children to my world is not a bad thing. It lets them know that it is OK to view the world through a mathematical lens and that, in doing so, we can practice the skill and the art of looking for patterns and connecting ideas.

So the next time you see a license plate and mentally factor the number that appears there, or the next time you push the buttons on your cell phone to call a friend and notice that the pattern makes a rectangle or trapezoid shape—know that you are not alone.

You are in good company!

Jeffrey WankoJeffrey J. Wanko teaches mathematics methods courses at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. He is interested in the development of students’ logical reasoning skills using puzzles.


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