Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Story of 1

Somehow I got through my whole school life believing I hated Mathematics. As far as I was concerned, high school maths seemed to be based on lies like "let a = 3". Deep in my inner core, I knew that a was a and 3 was 3, and you could ever persuade me otherwise. In primary school, they wanted us to spend an inordinate amount of time poring over problems like "If five men take seven days to dig a hole 5m x 5m x 5m, how long will it take them to dig a hole twice as big?" The answer was so obvious - get a machine to do it instead and save their time! Yet my teachers thought I was being a smart mouth (moi?) so I eventually learnt to keep such opinions to myself.

I think if Mathematics had been presented to me differently, I may well have embraced it. For me, that would have meant using story to introduce and explain it. We language-oriented people are hot-wired to story, and movies like The Story of 1 would have inspired me, I believe, and motivated me to want to learn more.

The story of the number one is the story of Western civilization. Terry Jones ("Monty Python's Flying Circus") goes on a humor-filled journey to recount the amazing tale behind the world's simplest number. Using computer graphics, "One" is brought to life, in all his various guises, in STORY OF 1.

Terry Jones does a great job, adding lovely touches of humour without being patronising. I particularly like the sequence that explained Pythagoras' link between musical harmony and mathematics where Terry Jones makes music with flower pots. The animation is clever, too. Students of history will appreciate the historical sequence the movie follows.

The Story of 1 is both fascinating and educational. It's available at Google Videos to view, and is also for sale via Amazon. It takes about an hour to watch, and I think it would be worthwhile for classes and families.

(Thanks to Ryan Goble (@_mindblue_from MCPop Ning for the tip! and thanks to horizontal.integration on Flickr for the image.)


  1. You had me laughing out loud as I read this post! I could relate. I really like the connection between reading and math. When it is surrounded by story and illustration it suddenly becomes relate-able.

  2. I agree, Kelly. And I'm glad I made you laugh! I suspect you are a story person at heart too.

  3. I think I might have been a mathie too... if only.


    I'm now beginning to enjoy math so much more now that I'm teaching my kiddos. ;

    amy in peru

  4. I found the same thing Amy, teaching somebody else is such a great way to learn it yourself. I think that's why peer tutoring can be a powerful tool.


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