A bad score on an elementary school test convinced him that he was not very good at math. As a teenager he dreamed of becoming a poet. He didn’t major in math, and when he finally applied to graduate school, he was rejected by every university save one.

Nine years later, at the age of 34, Huh is at the pinnacle of the math world. He is best known for his proof, with the mathematicians Eric Katz and Karim Adiprasito, of a long-standing problem called the Rota conjecture.

Even more remarkable than the proof itself is the manner in which Huh and his collaborators achieved it—by finding a way to reinterpret ideas from one area of mathematics in another where they didn’t seem to belong. This past spring [the Institute for Advanced Study] offered Huh a long-term fellowship, a position that has been extended to only three young mathematicians before. Two of them (Vladimir Voevodsky and Ngô Bảo Châu) went on to win the Fields Medal, the highest honor in mathematics.

That Huh would achieve this status after starting mathematics so late is almost as improbable as if he had picked up a tennis racket at 18 and won Wimbledon at 20. It’s the kind of out-of-nowhere journey that simply doesn’t happen in mathematics today, where it usually takes years of specialized training even to be in a position to make new discoveries. Yet it would be a mistake to see Huh’s breakthroughs as having come in spite of his unorthodox beginning. In many ways they’re a product of his unique history—a direct result of his chance encounter, in his last year of college, with a legendary mathematician who somehow recognized a gift in Huh that Huh had never perceived himself.

For today, I’ll give a fun fact that I learned last year; for its national flag, the country of Togo chose a rectangle whose dimensions matches the golden ratio.

In my capstone class for future secondary math teachers, I ask my students to come up with ideas for engaging their students with different topics in the secondary mathematics curriculum. In other words, the point of the assignment was not to devise a full-blown lesson plan on this topic. Instead, I asked my students to think about three different ways of getting their students interested in the topic in the first place.

I plan to share some of the best of these ideas on this blog (after asking my students’ permission, of course).

This student submission again comes from my former student Trent Pope. His topic, from Pre-Algebra: probability and odds.

What interesting (i.e., uncontrived) word problems using this topic can your students do now?

This website contains problems that would be great for odds. On the worksheet it has you solving problems about the chances of getting different gumballs from a gumball machine and chances of winning gift cards in a drawing. These worksheets would be great because there are real life applications with these examples. On the worksheet students are to solve what color gumballs they could draw from the machine. This will give them a visual representation of their odds. In order to find their odds they must know all the required information such as the number of total gumballs and the number of each color. Then the instructor can ask the students any question about what they can draw. The other problem is that there are gift cards, coupons, and free admission to a theme park that a student draws from a hat. This would be another great example of how students can find the odds of what they can draw.

How could you as a teacher create an activity or project that involves your topic?

This project idea comes from the game show Deal or No Deal. The purpose of the project would be for students to see what the odds are of winning more money than the amount offered from the Banker. For instance, the banker will offer you $100,000 to leave the show without seeing what is in your briefcase. The contestant would then look to see how many briefcases are left that could contain an amount greater than $100,000. If there are five chances out of the twenty remaining briefcases, the student would have a 5/20 chance, or 25% chance, to win more money. So, the contestant might want to say no deal because there is a higher chance of winning more money should he/she stay in the game. Students could go multiple rounds of this and see if their chances increase as the game goes on. This would engage students and they would look forward to winning the game show.

How has this topic appeared in pop culture (movies, TV, current music, video games, etc.)?

This topic has appeared in many examples through pop culture. One is in the movie 21. Also, I have found a YouTube video demonstrating probability and odds. The video gives an example of how a game show changes your odds of winning a brand new car. There are three doors and the host asks you which door you think has the new car. When you do this you have a 33% chance of selecting the right door. After you have made a selection, the host goes and selects one of the remaining doors to open. Remember that the host knows which door the car is behind. He opens the door to show you that it does not contain the car. Then, the host asks you if you would like to change your door or keep it. Because of variable change you are more likely to pick the car if you change your decision. This increases your chances to 66% of choosing the right door. I thought this was a great way to engage students about probability and odds because it is all about your chance of selecting the correct door. You have one chance to pick the right door, but three doors to pick from. This is all about odds. It increases after the host opens a door because you have a second chance to select the correct door. This would apply to all game shows, and people would be able to make personal connections.