Archive for November 22, 2011

Stairway to Heaven

The following story was told to me by Judy White, one of the world’s greatest middle school teachers.

Using wooden cubes, Judy created a set of double stairs. As illustrated below, 2 cubes were required to create 1 step (green), 6 cubes were required to create 2 steps (green and red), and 12 cubes were required to create 3 steps (green, red, and blue).

Judy asked her students how many cubes would be required to create 4 steps, 5 steps, and 6 steps. With a little discussion, her students agreed that 20 cubes, 30 cubes, and 42 cubes would be needed, respectively.

She then asked them to generalize. “Do you see a pattern for how many cubes would be needed to create n steps?” she asked.

One boy responded, “No.”

“There isn’t a pattern?” Judy asked.

“No, Mrs. White,” the boy said, “the answer is no — n × o.”

Not well versed in algebraic notation, the boy used the letter o instead of n + 1.

How great is that?

Speaking of stairs, here’s a math joke involving stairs.

A statistician, a physicist, and an engineer die on the same day. At the Pearly Gates, they are greeted by St. Peter. “To enter Heaven,” he tells them, “you must climb these 1,000 stairs. But while you are climbing, I will read to you from Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks. If you can make it to the top without laughing, you may enter.”

They start up the stairs. The statistician laughs when he reaches the 47th step. The physicist reaches the 125th step, but he then laughs, too. The engineer, however, makes it all the way to the top.

“Congratulations!” says St. Peter. “Welcome to Heaven!”

Upon hearing this, the engineer begins to laugh.

“What’s so funny?” asks St. Peter.

“I just got the first joke.”

The Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks blog is an online extension to the book Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks. The blog contains jokes submitted by readers, new jokes discovered by the author, details about speaking appearances and workshops, and other random bits of information that might be interesting to the strange folks who like math jokes.

MJ4MF (offline version)

Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks is available from Amazon, Borders, Barnes & Noble, NCTM, Robert D. Reed Publishers, and other purveyors of exceptional literature.