An Arbitrarily Close Tour

Annie Perkins, a math teacher for Minneapolis Public Schools, writes the arbitrarily close blog. Here are just a few of the interesting/exciting/compelling components of her blog.

#MathArtChallenge posts

Perkins has been creating posts for this challenge since March 16 and encouraging people to post their creations to social media. She described it as “just a fun, simple way to engage our brains during this time of unease. All tasks are low tech: paper, pencil, maybe string. Nothing fancy.” I haven’t participated in the challenge yet (I saw a few posts about it on Twitter, but hadn’t had a chance to look it up until recently), but a lot of these look cool and I’m hoping to try them. For instance, I’m looking forward to trying the isometric illusions (15) and the decagon and Pride flag (75).

Some of her posts for the challenge have focused on recent events. She wrote a Black Lives Matter post. “If you do any #mathartchallenge do this one,” she wrote. She also wrote in early June about future plans for the challenge:

“The Math Art Challenge has been on hiatus for about a week now. Mostly because it’s jarring to see folk happily engaging in math art while protestors are getting arrested. I couldn’t conscionably post things about the Hilbert curve, knowing it would divert time and energy that we need focused elsewhere.

I am keenly aware that a lot of white educators are doing more harm than good right now. Often because we’re moving too fast in an attempt to assuage guilty feelings that are hard to sit with. I am trying to let myself sit with and consider those feelings while also making sure that I am taking thoughtful, productive action and planning to be in this for the long haul. Because we need to be here beyond this week. Especially white folk. Especially white educators.”

She went on to write about her thoughts on how she can contribute to dismantling white supremacy, both inside and outside of the challenge. Among those things, she plans to spend the summer “updating, revising and adding to the Mathematicians Project.”

Perkins has written several posts about the project for the MTMS blog. In the first post (from 2016), she describes how the project came to be:

“I was giving a lecture on Pythagoras. Most of the class was giggling, having just learned that this mathematical giant was afraid of beans…One of my students, who rarely participated in class, raised his hand to ask a question.

‘Yes?’ I said, eagerly looking forward to engaging this hard-to-reach student.

‘Ms. Perkins,’ he said, ‘Why do we always talk about white dudes?'”

She wrote about how she could have sidestepped or dismissed the student’s question, but instead decided to probe further:

“Knowing this particular student identified strongly with his Mexican heritage, I asked, ‘Would it matter to you if I showed you a Mexican mathematician?’

He paused, got a weird look on his face, and responded with one of the most depressing questions I’ve ever heard: ‘Do you think there are any?’

I assured him that there were, but when he asked who they were, and I came up with nothing, his suspicions were confirmed…The fact that I didn’t know even the name of one Mexican mathematician, but I did know that Pythagoras was afraid of beans, spoke volumes about which mathematicians I valued.”

The project was born when Perkins researched Diego Rodriguez before talking to her students about him and his contributions to math. “My student was so excited that he stood up at the end and yelled, ‘Take that, white dudes!’ He had found a role model, and for the rest of the year frequently talked about Rodriguez as a point of pride,” she wrote.

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