Mathematical Insight

March 03, 2014 1 Comment None
  • This story is based on a moment of mathematical discovery made by a group of students from Shijiahuang in the Hebei Province of China. Not only did the group make a mathematical discovery that no one had made before them, but their insight became the starting point for my own investigations of magic hexagons, a topic that has led to many fascinating results.

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1 Comment

  • Liwei

    In 2003, answering maths problems in English and explaining every step of the problem-solving process was definitely a challenging task for a Chinese junior high school student like me. We had never done anything in English outside an English classroom. And all we needed to answer a maths problem was to memorize formulas and concepts, know how to use them and do calculations. We were never asked to describe how we thought of a solution or how we planned to solve it. These meta-cognitive processes were never explicit as far as I could recall.

    The encounter with the hexagon problem was an interesting experience. There was a stage when we simply tried and tested without any strategy. Yet, blind testing was labor- and time-consuming and basically relied on LUCK. We figured there had to be a pattern or a rule that we could follow to solve the problem more efficiently. And then came our discovery! However, it should be noted that all those guesses and tests were necessary and foundational because we needed them for reflections. Instead of being told about the rule before we begin to solve the problem, the process of trial and error triggered something even greater. It was totally worth it!

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