In today’s blog post, I am sharing with you this selection of math TED Talks I curated from various TED playlists that I believe are not just fascinating, but also incredibly valuable for math teachers.

These talks offer unique perspectives on mathematics, blending it with real-world applications, history, art, and even humor. They’re excellent tools for math teachers to use in the classroom, either as educational material or as a catalyst for thought-provoking discussions about the nature and importance of mathematics.

Whether you’re looking to inspire your students, broaden their horizons, or simply bring a new dimension to your teaching, these talks are sure to enrich your educational toolkit.

For more educational video content, I invite you to check our TED resources section here in Educators Technology. You will find a wide range of TED videos covering various content areas.

Math TED Talks

Here are favourite TED talks for math teachers:

1. Teaching kids real math with computers, Conrad Wolfram

Conrad Wolfram tackles the issue of disinterest in mathematics among students by challenging the traditional method of teaching math, which heavily focuses on hand calculations. He argues that this approach is not only dull but also largely irrelevant to practical mathematics and real-world applications. Wolfram advocates for a radical shift towards teaching mathematics through computer programming, emphasizing that this method aligns more closely with actual mathematical practices and applications in various fields.

2. The mathematics of history, Jean-Baptiste Michel

In his talk, Jean-Baptiste Michel, a TED Fellow, opens a fascinating window into what mathematics can reveal about history. By digitizing historical data, Michel demonstrates how mathematical analysis can uncover surprising patterns in various aspects of human history, ranging from language evolution to the intensity and impact of wars. His approach showcases the potential of mathematics to provide deep insights into our past.

3. How algorithms shape our world, Kevin Slavin

Kevin Slavin delves into the pervasive and often unseen influence of algorithms in our daily lives. From stock market fluctuations to espionage strategies, and even the selection of movies we watch, he illustrates how algorithms are making critical decisions on our behalf. Slavin raises important questions about our reliance on these complex systems and the point at which we might lose control over them, highlighting the profound impact of algorithms in shaping our world.

4. The beautiful math of coral, Margaret Wertheim

Margaret Wertheim presents a unique intersection of mathematics, marine biology, and art in her project that recreates coral reef organisms using crochet. This project not only celebrates the beauty of coral reefs but also serves as a vivid exploration of hyperbolic geometry, a type of geometry that underlies the structure of corals. Wertheim’s work beautifully demonstrates how mathematics can be found and visually represented in natural phenomena.

5. The mathematics of war, Sean Gourley

Sean Gourley offers a compelling analysis of modern conflict through the lens of mathematics. By examining data from the Iraq war and other conflicts, Gourley and his team discovered a surprisingly consistent mathematical relationship between the frequency and severity of violent incidents. This discovery not only provides new insights into the nature of warfare but also showcases the power of mathematical analysis in understanding complex human activities.

6. The magic of Fibonacci numbers, Arthur Benjamin

Arthur Benjamin, also known as the “mathemagician,” brings to life the fascinating world of the Fibonacci series in this engaging talk. He explores the intriguing properties of this famous sequence of numbers and demonstrates how they appear unexpectedly in various aspects of nature, art, and life. Benjamin’s presentation is a reminder of the beauty and inspiration that mathematics, often perceived as purely logical and functional, can offer.

7. The surprising math of cities and corporations, Geoffrey West

Geoffrey West, a physicist, uncovers fascinating mathematical laws that dictate the dynamics of cities and corporations. He illustrates how a range of urban attributes, such as wealth, crime rates, and even pedestrian walking speeds, can be predicted from a single metric: the city’s population. West extends this concept to explain similar patterns in biological organisms and corporate structures, offering a thought-provoking perspective on the fundamental mathematical principles that underpin complex systems.

8. The fractals at the heart of African designs, Ron Eglash

Ron Eglash introduces the audience to the striking presence of fractal patterns in African village layouts and designs. His journey, starting with a unique rooftop greeting, leads to the discovery of intricate fractal patterns ingrained in various African cultural practices. Eglash’s exploration bridges mathematics and anthropology, revealing the sophisticated mathematical concepts embedded in traditional African designs.

9. The math and magic of origami, Robert Lang

Robert Lang, an origami artist and engineer, showcases the stunning fusion of mathematics and art in the world of modern origami. He demonstrates how mathematical principles can be applied to create incredibly complex and detailed origami sculptures. Lang’s work not only pushes the boundaries of this ancient art form but also highlights its potential applications in real-world engineering and design problems.

10. Why I fell in love with monster prime numbers, Adam Spencer

Adam Spencer, a comedian and mathematics enthusiast, shares his fascination with “monster” prime numbers – extraordinarily long numbers that are only divisible by themselves and one. His talk is a journey into the world of these massive numbers, exploring the challenges and excitement involved in discovering new prime numbers. Spencer’s enthusiasm and humor make a seemingly esoteric topic accessible and engaging, revealing the captivating nature of mathematical exploration.

11. Comics that ask “what if?”, Randall Munroe

Randall Munroe, known for his webcomic “xkcd,” delves into the fun and imaginative side of math and science. He answers bizarre and whimsical “what if” questions, employing math, physics, and a healthy dose of humor. Munroe’s talk is a journey through the creative and often absurd hypothetical scenarios that he explores in his comics, showing how these fanciful musings can lead to surprising and enlightening insights.

Related: 10 Great TED Talks on Autism

Final thoughts

In conclusion, these TED Talks represent a treasure trove of insights and inspirations for anyone passionate about mathematics education. The speakers in these talks, through their unique lenses and engaging narratives, provide us with extraordinary tools to achieve just that. Whether you’re using these talks to spark a lively classroom discussion, to complement your curriculum, or to offer your students a glimpse into the vast and varied world of mathematics, they are sure to leave a lasting impact.

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