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MAA bringing math to the mainstream

January 26, 2011

PLAINVIEW – The newly formed Wayland Baptist University chapter of the Mathematics Association of America is working toward a lofty goal, making mathematics more applicable to everyday life for non-mathematicians.

              To that end, the group held the first of what members hope are numerous talks discussing “recreational mathematics” last week. The discussion, led by Dr. Scott Franklin, associate professor of mathematics and associate dean of the School of Math and Sciences, centered on using mathematics to speed up board games. The game in question, Chutes and Ladders, was featured in a similar article in a mathematics journal.

Franklin, who has three children ages 10 and younger, said the topic had specific interest to him since he often wonders, “How can I speed this stupid thing up?” he joked. Franklin loves spending time with his kids, but playing Chutes and Ladders with his 7-year-old can become tedious and is not all that intellectually stimulating.

              The game features a board with 100 squares and various ladders that allow you to move ahead and chutes that slide your token backward. The game is propelled by a circular spinner divided into six equal spaces. In his search for a quicker game, Franklin focused on the spinner, wondering if six was the optimum number to cover the board in a minimum amount of time.

              Franklin used what is called a Markov Chain to determine the optimum number of spaces in order to complete the game in the shortest amount of time. Markov Chains are used to determine probability. In this case, Franklin was looking at the probability of moving from one space to the next depending on the numbers on the spinner. After testing every number from 1 to 100, he determined that 15 equal spaces on the spinner, numbered 1 through 15, would allow for completion of the game in the lowest average number of moves. In this case, with 15 spaces on the spinner, players could complete the game in an average of 25.81 moves per game.

              While most people wouldn’t think of using mathematics to determine such information, Dr. Emilia Moore, faculty advisor for the MAA, said the goal of the group is to show how mathematical applications can be used in everyday life.

              “We really have two purposes,” she said. “We want to strengthen the bonds between our math majors, and we want to promote mathematics to others. We really hope to build connections for our majors to see where and how they can use math in the future.”

              Moore said they hope to have a similar presentation every two to three weeks throughout the semester. Two more presentations have already been planned. On Feb. 11, Dr. Bill Hahn will discuss statistics and how they can be used, and on March 11, Moore will give a presentation on how to use game theory to determine who does household chores.

              For more information on mathematics and their applications, contact the Wayland School of Math and Sciences at 806-291-1115, or log on to www.wbu.edu.