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Mathematically Speaking

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“Hold your finger straight out in front of yourself like this parallel to the line on the wall and then cover your right eye,” said Dr. Alice Monet. “Now switch and cover your eye. It should have appeared as though your finger moved. Now do the exact same thing except bend your arm so that your finger is closer. It should have appeared as though your finger moved a greater distance. That’s called an angular shift, and that’s how your brain uses both of your eyes to calculate depth perception. You automatically use this every time someone throws you a ball and you instinctively know how to catch it. Your brain does this calculation innately after it practices it enough.”

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“It’s not yet possible for us go to other stars and planetary bodies yet, so we use this principle to calculate how far away a star is,” Dr. Monet continued who led a discussion on how astronomers calculate the distance from earth to other bodies in space using geometry. Her two talks took place on the final day of the Friends of the David M. Brown Arlington Planetarium’s May weekend themed Mathematically Speaking. The weekend spanned from May 16-18 and was designed to show how mathematics can be fun and how it is used in astronomy.

The weekend started on Friday May 16 with showings of the classic children’s program School House Rock and the classic program Multiplications of Ten. School House Rock focused on teaching children addition and multiplication in a musical way. Multiplications of Ten depicted how significantly the distance between objects (atoms, cells, people, cities, planets galaxies) can be vary just be adding or subtracting zeroes.

On the morning of Saturday May 17, the Friends co-hosted a learning-based competition for children called MathDice and in the evening, there was a showing of the movie Little Man Tate starring Jodi Foster. On Sunday May 18, the shows from Friday were shown once again except they were fronted by Dr. Monet’s geometry discussion.

The participants in the 11th annual MathDice tournament were, fifth grade students from the Arlington County public school system. The tournament was held at Drew Model School and brought together 132 students from all 22 elementary schools in Arlington County. In addition to the Friends of the Planetarium, the event was also sponsored by ThinkFun, and the Arlington Public Schools Mathematics Office. Preparation for the tournament began in February and was led by MathDice coaches (math lead teachers, classroom teachers and math coaches). There was an individual champion, and team awards were given out as well.

In addition to their programming at the David M. Brown Arlington Planetarium and the Mathdice Tournament, the Friends’ also participated in the third annual NOVA STEM Alliance career festival at Mount Vernon High School that same day.
The Friends will host events at the David M. Brown Arlington Planetarium one weekend a month during the School Year. The theme for June will be Rockets. Details can be found on the Friends’ website.

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