Mathematics and Statistics Department strives to show that math equals fun!

The Mathematics and Statistics Department at Hope College intends to inspire a love and appreciation for math in its students, and one way they do this is by hosting regular colloquiums to give students a chance to engage with math and its applications in the wider world. At these events, visiting mathematicians present a topic in their field of expertise and allow students to ask questions. Past colloquium speakers have spoken on topics as varied as COVID testing, ChatGPT, machine learning, origami and memorization versus understanding in math. 

Most recently, on Tuesday, March 18, students and faculty enjoyed an interactive discussion with Dr. Lauren Rose about the card game “Quads” that she recently designed. Dr. Rose is an associate professor of mathematics at Bard College, and the talk she gave was titled “Quads: A SET-like Game with a Twist.”

Associate Professor of Mathematics at Bard College, Dr. Lauren Rose, explains the card game she develop called “Quads” (Photo credit: Tacy Kratt)

“SET is a popular card game that you can teach a five-year-old (because you don’t need to be able to read) but there’s a ton of math in it,” stated Dr. Rose. “SET contains three cards…so we asked, ‘What if we did four cards?’” she said, referring to herself and Jeffrey Pereira, an undergraduate student who helped design Quads as part of his senior project. Though the rules of the game are relatively straightforward–players try to create as many quad groupings as they can, given several conditions–it can be studied from a variety of complex mathematical perspectives. These include probability, abstract algebra, linear algebra, geometry, and more. These hidden layers of math and logic intrigue Dr. Rose, who has spent the past several years studying them. 

During the event, students and faculty tried their hands at the game, creating groups of four with paper decks that Dr. Rose handed out. The cards in the official Quads game feature images of female mathematicians on the backs, which Dr. Rose hopes will encourage women to consider the traditionally male-dominated field of mathematics. 

Playing cards from “Quads” featuring female mathematicians (Photo credit: The Game Crafter)

The math and statistics faculty at Hope similarly strives to make their mathematics department a welcoming place for all students. “When I tell people I’m a math professor, I typically get two reactions: ‘I love math’ or ‘I hate math,’” said Dr. Diana Harrelson. “We just want people to know that there’s something in math for everyone.”

The week of March 18 also marks the first annual Spirit Week for the department. By designating a different celebration for each day (like “Pajama Day” on Monday and a poetry slam on Wednesday), the department provides a community-building opportunity and a chance to breathe some fun into often-challenging classes. 

The week culminates with Button Day on Friday, when students will be given special pins as a way to recognize their (near) completion of whichever courses they are in. These pins are often a point of pride, especially for math, statistics, and engineering students who amass a colorful collection on their backpacks. “We wanted to make a bigger deal about Button Week than just passing them out in class one day,” said Dr. Harrelson, explaining the rationale behind Spirit Week. She acknowledged that it has been “slow-going” in terms of student participation but remains enthusiastic for the future. “We want this to be a community,” she said, “where students can find something in math that is personally important to them.” And, as Dr. Rose testified, students can even have some fun along the way. 

(Featured image source: Tacy Kratt)

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