May 14, 2011 - Happy Birthday, John C. Fields

As a college professor and math researcher in the late 1800s, John C. Fields was disappointed in the state of math research in North America (he was Canadian and was teaching in the U.S.). So he went to Europe to hang out with some math greats and to make some math discoveries.

When he returned to Canada in 1902, Fields worked hard to raise the reputation of mathematicians in North America. One way that society honors people is to award prizes and especially to award prize money. So Fields started an award for younger mathematicians to give recognition of their contributions to mathematics, and also to help support their work with a monetary prize of $15,000.
The Fields Medal is very prestigious and is considered the Nobel Prize of Mathematics. (But Nobel Prize winners get a million dollars!!) One thing that makes this award different from most is that it has to be awarded to a person who is less than forty years old.

Wonder about math...

When I read about mathematicians, I often see words like research and discovery – and somehow that still manages to surprise me. In my world of helping little kids with arithmetic, math is something to be learned and used—something very, very practical as we deal with counting things, money, time, measuring lengths and weights and volumes... Math seems like something to be used in professional research or scientific inquiry--rather than to be the subject of it. And using a word like discovery makes me feel like there must be some magical math land that mathematicians visit—and that they come back and tell the rest of us about their latest findings...

But those musings are short-lived, and getting shorter, as I read and hear more about all the fascinating areas of math research and exploration. The TV show NUMB3RS was a fun way to hear about higher math and to learn how even very esoteric-seeming topics can be used in practical fields such as detective work.

Enjoy math!

If you like the idea of Mathematics Land, be sure to check out The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster, and A Gebra Named Al, by Wendy Isdell.

If you like the idea of math being all around us and very useful, check out the book The Math Curse, by Jon Scieszka.

And of course, there's always that wonderful Disney film Donald in Mathmagic Land! Love it!

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