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Strength in numbers at math camp

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Tuesday is Pythagorean Theorem Day.

You forgot, didn’t you?

Don’t feel bad. I would have let it slip by if Andy Klee hadn’t mentioned it during his MathCamp4Adults, held here in Albuquerque last Wednesday through Saturday.

Five men and four women – ranging in age from mid-30s to early 70s and every one of them from other parts of the country – signed up for the camp, traveled here, rented rooms and paid $395 in tuition just for the sheer fun of tackling polynomial division, integer solutions and Pythagorean triples.

Oh yeah. That reminds me.

James Taylor of Math Circles Collaborative of New Mexico, third from left, uses a card game to explore mathematical patterns during a MathCamp4Adults session in Albuquerque on Thursday. Camp participants, from left, are Tim Scott, Wilbert Garcia and Lisa Dieter. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

For those few who don’t know, Pythagorean Theorem Day gets its name from the proposition that in a right triangle, the square of the hypotenuse (the longest side of the triangle) is equal to the sum of the square of the other two sides. So you take Tuesday’s date – 8-15-17 – square the eight to get 64, square the 15 to get 225 and add up those figures to get 289, which happens to be the total of 17 squared.

Nothing to it.

By the way, if you are busy on Tuesday you can celebrate Pythagorean Theorem Day on 12-16-20 or 7-24-25.

Klee, 65, a Rio Rancho resident, is retired from a company that creates training programs for software clients. A mathematics enthusiast since high school, he recently enrolled in algebra and advanced algebra classes at Central New Mexico Community College and was impressed by his teacher, 39-year-old New Mexico native Kaylee Tejeda.

“Kaylee knows the math so well and he can put the pieces together,” Klee said. “He understands the whole flow.”

Math books stacked and available for reference at MathCamp4Adults. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

Klee got so charged up by the CNM classes that he decided to use his experience in training programs to create a math summer camp for adults that would be led, in part, by Tejeda.

Drawing on his contacts in the software industry and seeking out others, he started recruiting by email.

Last week, camp participants arrived from Chicago; San Francisco; upstate New York; East Nashville, Tenn.; Westlake, Ohio; Fennville, Mich.; and Glenview and Aurora, Ill.

“We are going to do an open-ended exercise to try to develop formulas to generate Pythagorean triples,” Klee told his math campers during one session. “Let’s take 15 minutes, or 20.”

It’d take me 15 or 20 minutes just to figure out what he said.

I am an unlikely choice to cover a camp like this. I’ve struggled with math all my life. I only passed high school geometry because my boomerang project took third place in the school science fair.

So, one of the most difficult concepts for me to grasp was that these folks were looking to have a good time at this math camp.

“Math is integrated in everything – in nature, in art. I just love it,” said Lisa Dieter, 36, a Chicago wealth adviser. “I’m excited about the chance to just sit around and discuss it.”

Christine Niswender is an accountant from Ohio, but she has a bachelor’s degree in math.

“I was looking forward to some exploration into math that I had not seen in a while, some problem solving,” she said. “Accounting is pretty finite. Math is more fun.”

Fred Kellaway, 49, a radiologist from Michigan, discovered beauty in mathematics when he took a college course in calculus a couple years back to augment an interest in physics. “I always did well in math but I stopped when I finished the requirements for medical school,” he said. “When I took that calculus course I found it was like philosophy and I enjoy philosophy. I went on Google, looking for a math camp.”

MathCamp4Adults participants, from left, Eileen Schultz, Christine Niswender, Thomas Priestley and Kaylee Tejeda consider a problem. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

Lin McMullin, 74, of Ballston Lake, N.Y., is a retired high school math teacher who keeps his hand in the numbers game. He actually has a theorem named after him. “Let p (x) be a polynomial of degree 4 such that the curve y equals …” There’s more, but we better leave it at that.

Thomas Priestley, 39, of East Nashville, is one participant who attended the camp for professional development purposes. He teaches 11th-grade precalculus at an American school in Malta and was hoping to use some of what he picked up at camp to help him write a mathematics curriculum for middle schoolers. But it was easy to tell that Priestley was having a great time, too, as he and the others scribbled on paper in search of solutions.

I looked on it awe. It was as if I were attending a conference conducted in a foreign language, only picking up on a word or phrase here and there.

“Who’s familiar with Shor’s algorithm?” Tejeda asked from the front of the room.

I slipped quietly out the back door.

UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Ollie at 823-3916 or oreed@abqjournal.com. Go to www.abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.

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