JACKSON TWP. There are few people who can mentally add and multiply numbers faster than a calculator, memorize 100 digits of pi, figure out dates in history and perform other amazing feats of the mind. Arthur Benjamin is not only one of those people who can do all of that, but he does it with a bit of magic and a good sense of humor.
Benjamin is a magician and a professor of mathematics at Harvey Mudd College in California. A Cleveland native, Benjamin gave two presentation at Stark State College on Nov. 5. One of the presentations was to high school students who participated in the third annual mathematics competition.
"We usually get 80 students from nine high schools compete each year," said Florian Haiduc, associate professor of mathematics at Stark State College.
The competition is for students in grades 9-12 with awards going to the top 10 students and top five teams.
"Individuals competing have to complete 20 multiple choice questions in one hour while the teams are separated into rooms to solve problems and show their work in 45 minutes. The problems are in algebra, geometry and trigonometry," Haiduc said.
Haiduc said Stark State holds the competition each year to give area students an outlet to show their potential. Plus, he said the competition promotes the love so many students have for math and how important mathematics are to being able to succeed in the workplace.
"The competition and Dr. Benjamin’s presentation show how math stimulates creativity in problem solving. Bringing the students on campus also shows them Stark State’s quality math programs and how we can prepare them for the workplace or to attend four year colleges," Haiduc said.
Benjamin is also an award-winning researcher, writer and teacher and is an American Backgammon Tour winner. He’s been watched by millions of viewers at TED.com, the Colbert Report, CNN, The Today Show and has been in national newspapers and magazines.
He engaged the audience in questions and assistance with his presentations of his magician and mathematician talents. Many members of the audience brought along a calculator to test Benjamin’s mental calculations. He ended the fast-paced performance by mentally squaring a five-digit number.
He asked five different people in the audience to give him a five-digit number. Within a minute or two, Benjamin had correctly squared the number 47,328 and he received a long round of applause from those who checked him on a calculator.
He was asked by a parent what he thought about the Common Core math curriculum. He said it helps develop students to be "confident problem solvers" but that quality math teachers are more important.
"It’s really more about the quality of teachers instead of the quality of the curriculum. We need math teachers who teach math as a way to think creatively versus teaching it as a lesson in discipline," Benjamin said.