It was almost like magic when Dr. Arthur Benjamin performed mental math in front of an audience of high school students Monday. In fact, Benjamin started his performance with a card trick and proceeded to amaze students by calculating the square of a five-digit number in his head.
Benjamin’s presentation was the kickoff to the annual Jack Kilby Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) Day at Barton Community College. Combining magic and math, Benjamin calls himself a “mathemagician.” He’s also a professor of mathematics at Harvey Mudd College and earned a Ph.D. in mathematical sciences from Johns Hopkins University. He has created “The Secrets of Mental Math” and other DVDs for The Great Courses.
“My goal is to convince people that math can be fun,” Benjamin says. “The point of my presentation is not to show the audience how smart I am, but how smart they can be.”
Mentally finding the square of random numbers called out by the audience, Benjamin continued to make his challenges more intriguing.
“I shall attempt the impossible,” he said. “Or at least, for my skeptics out there, improbable.” He could tell students who provided their date of birth what day of the week they were born on. Then, as an audience member checked on a perpetual calendar app on his smartphone, Benjamin asked the student to choose any date from 1600 into the future. He chose something like Feb. 17, 4567, and Benjamin said it would fall on a Monday. “And it will be sunny,” he joked. But his math matched the date on the app.
Unlike many magicians, Benjamin was willing to share some of the secrets of mental math. After delivering the keynote to this year’s Kilby Day, he was scheduled to meet with teachers and youth leaders. “During the workshop, if you want to see the algebra (for a particular stunt), I’m happy to do it,” he said.
Students could also attend two breakout sessions after Benjamin’s presentation. There were a variety of subjects to choose from, said Biology & Environmental Science Instructor Charlotte Cates.
“We have quite a few new diverse breakout sessions this year that highlight our tagline ‘STEM is Everywhere,’” Cates said. “These include a session on the Physics of Dance presented by our new Dance instructor Danika Bielek in the new Studio 34. Breakout sessions on food Science, pet nutritional needs and origami tech are also new this year. Dr. Kristen Hathcock will use drones to demonstrate math concepts in our new active learning classroom ... (and) drones will be flown on the Soccer Field.”
This is the 16th year that the college has invited high school students to a Kilby Science Day, named after former Great Bend resident Jack Kilby, who won a Nobel Prize in Physics for his role in inventing the microchip. “Last year we expanded Jack Kilby Science Day to include all the STEM Fields,” Cates said. “This year our theme is math, which is the language of STEM.”
Eight high school teams competed in a double-elimination Math Bowl this year. Students met in the Kirkman Center for lunch and an Academic Fair where they could learn more about Barton and other programs.