Thursday, December 6, 2012

Math in the Movies!

Republishing one of my favorite posts...  It's a good time of year to cozy up with a cup of hot chocolate and a good movie (with math!) :)

A couple years ago I began using video clips in my continuing education classes for teachers. Why?  Short movie excerpts have the powerful ability to:
  • illustrate a point
  • incite discussion
  • provide a humorous "jumping off point" for a particular concept
  • pose "real life" problem solving
  • capture students' attention
  • address a variety of student learning styles
  • present a wide variety of mathematical strands
  • help students to consider what they know and what they have yet to learn
Many, many movies contain mathematical clips. Some are best used with advanced math students while others are perfect for younger children.

Consider this clip from the movie, Father of the Bride. Mr. Banks is frustrated by the fact that hotdog buns come in packs of 12 while hotdogs come in packs of 8. Pose the question to students:
How many packs of each would he need to buy to make the hotdogs and buns come out even?

Here's a clip from Ma and Pa Kettle. I love this clip because it illustrates how important it is for students to explain not only WHAT the answer is but also HOW they got an answer. Can your student explain where Ma/Pa went wrong in each proof?

I also enjoy math problems from game shows. Students of all ages like to feel smarter than television competition. (Why else are game shows so successful?)  Here's an excerpt from Who Wants to Be a Millionaire in which actress Patricia Heaton struggles to answer the following question:
If a Euro is $1.50, five Euros is worth what?

A. Thirty quarters
B. Fifty dimes
C. Seventy nickels
D. Ninety pennies 

Many more online resources are available on math in the movies:

Math and the Movies: Two teachers list many movie excerpts and provide free pdf lessons to go with each.

Mathematics in Movies: A Harvard professor has collected an extensive collection of movie titles. He includes the movie clips in a library on his site.

Simpsons Math: Math lessons using episodes from The Simpsons.

The Math in the Movies page: guide to major motion pictures with math scenes.

PBS Teachers Mathline: math movie activities.

Math at the Movies: examples, photos, exercises.

Countdown: using technology of Quicktime to develop math skills.

LivingMathForum: Julie compiled a list of recommended math video learning materials from the Living Math Forum Yahoo group.

Mathematics Goes to the Movies: titles and short descriptions of over 500 movies and TV episodes that contain mathematics. (Thanks, Sue, for alerting me to this site!)

Math in the Movies: more favorites

And, of course, any of the Cyberchase episodes. (My kids have learned an incredible amount of math from watching this PBS series. You can also play on-line games and see some excerpts at the PBS kids website.)

Lastly, on YouTube you can see Norton Juster's The Dot and the Line... Enjoy! :)


  1. Great post!! Loved the Ma and Pa Kettle clip.

  2. And then there are short clips that you can use to get at mathematical ideas. I wrote a blog post about a scene in Holes that I hope to use in calculus class. And Dan Meyer uses lots of video clips for math lessons. It's often a big part of his What Can You Do With This lesson-creation style.

  3. Great ideas! I provided a link to your post and I'm so glad I discovered your blog! I'm sure my readers will love your ideas too!

  4. Oh my goodness, math from the Simpsons. My husband officially loves you ;)

    Great ideas!!


  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. Great ideas! :)
    Also, looove your cute header photo!

  7. I've linked the hot dog/buns dilemma back to you! :)

    Let me know if you can click on the photo and drag it onto your desktop. If that doesn't work, I can send it to you through e-mail.

  8. LOVE LOVE LOVE it! But now that I've said it outloud I'm thinking it makes me sound like a couch potato? Oh well...



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