How I’m Spending My Summer Vacation

I’m editing. It’s hell. I haven’t looked at these papers in…awhile, and they’re hot messes that I can’t even believe I’ve showed to other human beings. But they’re getting better. Slowly. They can’t get published sitting on my desk.

I’ve got a new class starting Tuesday, one I’ve never taught before. It’s one of our Masters-level electives for inservice teachers: Calculus for Middle School Teachers. I have no idea how this one’s gonna go, but I’m excited, except for the part where it starts at 8am and lasts until lunchtime.  I’m sure you’ll hear more about it next month.

I’m also ripping apart my digital piano again. Just needs a little more sanding on one of the pins. This time I really think I’ve got it.

But I’d rather talk about something more recreational. I’m sure somebody must have taught me compass and straightedge constructions at some point in my life, but I don’t really remember it. As a young person I didn’t have this awe of the beauty of Euclidean constructions that mathematicians are supposed to have, and mostly was just annoyed with two column proofs like most other 15 year olds. I might’ve encountered them later on when I took a geometry class, but that was just to pad out my credits and I’m embarrassed to say I never devoted much energy to it.

At some point I ran across Euclid the Game, developed by Kasper Peulen, and completely fell for it. It uses a web-based Geogebra interface to guide you through a number of Euclidean constructions, more or less in the order they occur in Elements. Once you develop a construction, like an angle bisector, it adds it to your toolbar for future use, just like Euclid intended.

I know I’m a total sucker for gamification, but I think this goes beyond that: just laying out these constructions in an easy-to-follow, step by step, mistake-friendly way helped me to unlock the beauty and fun that others had found more obvious. If you find yourself teaching a geometry class, I can’t recommend this highly enough.

This is going somewhere, I promise. I visited my mom a couple weeks back. Her wife is a talented folk artist and quilter, and every once in awhile I get called in as a mathematical “consultant” for one of their projects. Lately she’s been making barn quilts and had an idea for a new one on an old salvaged sawmill blade. Could I figure out a way to reproduce this eight-pointed star design on the blade? They had a compass, but apologized for not having a protractor.

I almost felt like I was being set up. This was too perfect.

8 pointed star laid out on a sawblade, with compass and straight edge

Nailed it.

So there you go kids: when are you gonna use compass and straightedge constructions in real life? I used ’em on vacation in my mom’s garage. Get on my level.

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