Chaim Goodman-Strauss of Mathematical Sciences wins National Award for Innovative Mathematics Education

Chaim Goodman-Strauss

Chaim Goodman-Strauss

Chaim Goodman-Strauss, U of A professor of mathematics at the Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences, was recently awarded first place in the 2021 Rosenthal Prize for Innovation and Inspiration in Mathematics Education for his practical exploration of classroom symmetry, titled “Tooti Toiti.”

The Rosenthal Prize is awarded by the National Museum of Mathematics (MoMath) in New York to recognize and promote the practical teaching of mathematics in the upper grades of elementary and middle school, and first place comes with a cash prize of $25,000. The Goodman-Strauss lesson plan will be shared with educators around the world via MoMath’s virtual archive of award-winning activities.

“MoMath is thrilled to award the 2021 Rosenthal Prize to Chaim Goodman-Strauss for his creativity and innovation in crafting a highly engaging lesson plan on symmetry,” said Cindy Lawrence, CEO and Executive Director of MoMath. “Professor Goodman-Strauss is helping inspire the next generation of STEM leaders with activities that allow young people in classrooms around the world to experience the wonder and beauty of math.”

In the Goodman-Strauss lesson, elementary school students cut out an envelope to make handmade paper “tiles.” They then assemble the tiles into patterns that can fill an infinite space symmetrically, with the symmetry of the pattern being related to the shape of the envelope.

Goodman-Strauss developed “Tooti Tooti” over several years and tested the concept at the Thaden School in Bentonville, the Tyson School of Innovation in Springdale, and in a local math circle run by the U of AT.

“There’s nothing like getting your hands on something to truly understand an abstract concept plus, it’s great fun!” said Goodman-Strauss. “I’m honored and grateful to the Rosenthals and the National Museum of Mathematics. and appreciates all the help from local students and teachers in refining Tooti Tooti.”

Since its inception in 2012, the Rosenthal Prize at MoMath has awarded cash prizes to 27 individuals, totaling more than $330,000. The award is named after Saul Rosenthal, chairman of Oxford Funds LLC, trustee of the National Museum of Mathematics, and longtime supporter of mathematics education.

Goodman-Strauss attributes his interest in the practical exploration of mathematics to the Montessori system of mathematical manipulations, which he encountered when his mother trained as a Montessori teacher. His own outreach began 30 years ago, when he successfully lured sleepy teenagers onto the University of Texas campus for interactive math shows on Saturday mornings.

Over the years he has developed toys, trading cards, stickers, games and zines that explore topics ranging from the foundations of logic to the shape of the universe. In collaboration with Kyle Kellams, he produced the Math Factor podcast broadcast on KUAF Ozarks in general program from 2004 to 2012. With renowned mathematician John H. Conway and Heidi Burgiel, Goodman-Strauss co-wrote and illustrated The symmetry of things, on the modern orbifold approach to planar symmetry.

Goodman-Strauss has also led a series of participatory public art events that explore mathematical topics. In partnership with local artist Eugene Sargent, he created a series of sculptures that were assembled on location in Atlanta by attendees of the biennial Gathering 4 Gardner, in honor of longtime American scientist columnist Martin Gardner. Goodman-Strauss’ work with Sargent is also part of the permanent collection of the Puzzle Museum in Boca Raton, Florida.

Most recently, he worked with Honors College students and staff to organize Math Circus, the college’s contribution to the Come as You Arkansas celebration last September. Artwork produced at Math Circus that demonstrates the negative curvature of hyperbolic geometry is currently on display in the Honors College wing of Gearhart Hall.


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