Monday, June 26, 2017

The Julia Robinson Mathematics Festival in Hong Kong (Video, App and Abundant Math Opportunities)

Hong Kong’s inaugural Julia Robinson Mathematics Festival (JRMF) was held at the Singapore International School (Hong Kong) on April 1st 2017 from 10:00am to 1:00pm. In partnership with the American Institute of Mathematics, the JRMF makes mathematics accessible to every student of all abilities, and focuses on collaborative problem-solving, as opposed to the competitive nature of mathematics examinations and contests, so that students can enjoy the richness and beauty of mathematics without any anxiety.

Guided by mathematics teachers and other mathematics lovers in the community, 248 students aged 10 to 14 worked on a variety of mathematical problems, puzzles and activities. Of these students, 230
(92%) came from local schools (Singapore International School, Chinese International School, Tung Wah Group Schools, ESF Island School among others). The mathematical activity at each table was specially designed to be initially easy and then progressively become challenging. These mathematically deep problem sets came with interesting names: "The Tower of Hanoi - and Beyond", "Broken Calculators", "The Game of Criss-cross", "Exploding Dot Puzzle", "Algebra Game", "Algebra Maze", "Leo The Rabbit", "Mobius Strip", "Number Game of Randomness", "Rubik Cube Machine!" among others. 

See Video Clip below on how students had a blast at doing mathematics! Dr. Mark Saul, Executive Director of The Julia Robinson Mathematics Festival, commented "They're choosing to do the Mathematics. And that's what is important!". 

Students roamed freely around and chose to go to any table to work on the problem sets. The facilitator at each table rewarded students with a raffle for demonstrating persistence in working on the math problems on hand or showing collaborative learning spirit (e.g., helping fellow peers at the table). Thirty raffle prizes such as Festival T-shirts, math games and books were given out at the end of the festival. To let all the participants meet the man behind the mathematics (to see their human faces flashed across the screen), we have even named each of the Raffle prizes after brilliant mathematicians whose short biography are read out before drawing the lucky winner of the raffle prize (see image below). The facilitators and overseas guests (Dr. Mark Saul and VIP guests from Mainland China and Taiwan —see group dinner picture below) had the honor to give out the Raffle prizes to the lucky students!

For the first time, mobile app software was leveraged at the JRMF for students to develop a stronger intuition to the mathematical problems through observation and experimentation. Even after the festival, the mobile app continues to encourage collaborative and creative problem-solving between the students and their parents and teachers. See our JRMF App screenshots below and install the Apple iOS version or the Android version to get a taste of some of the fun mathematics at the JRMF in Hong Kong!

Amidst the fun in mathematics, participants took away fond memories of doing challenging mathematics. With the new friendships forged, we look forward to the infinitely many opportunities and creative ideas to make Mathematics accessible to many more students. A Press Release and many more pictures and videos of the Festival can be found at the JRMF Hong Kong website!





"They're choosing to do the Mathematics. And that's what is important!"
 — Dr. Mark Saul, Executive Director of The Julia Robinson Mathematics Festival

Thirty Raffle Prizes named after Brilliant Mathematicians at the JRMF in Hong Kong




Screenshots of JRMF App used at JRMF in Hong Kong. The JRMF App continues to encourage collaborative and creative problem-solving between the students and their parents and teachers even after the JRMF Festival ends. 


JRMF Organizing Team and Overseas VIP Guests enjoying a "Festive Dinner" together: Dr Mark Saul, Executive Director of the JRMF, Ms. Cherry Pu and Team from Mainland China and Mr. Ho and Team from Taiwan.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Starting the Julia Robinson Mathematics Festival in Hong Kong


We are very excited to announce that the inaugural Julia Robinson Mathematics Festival in Hong Kong is going to be held on April 1st (Saturday) at the Singapore International School (Hong Kong). This is open to students in Hong Kong, ages 10 to 14.

The Julia Robinson Mathematics Festival in Hong Kong 2017 inspires students to explore the richness and beauty of mathematics through activities that encourage collaborative and creative problem-solving. This event is in joint partnership with the Julia Robinson Mathematics Festivals and the Singapore International School (Hong Kong). Details at http://www.algebragamification.com/JRMF.

We started this as a grassroots activity with a few like-minded friends -- Jian Shen (former Princeton University Math Club President who then roped in Nathan Savir), Kenneth Shum wondering what small differences can we make in a child's math education in Hong Kong. And this Julia Robinson Math Festival in Hong Kong seems perfectly in sync with the United States' 2017 National Math Festival, the grandest carnival in mathematics. We are delighted to receive full support from Mark Saul (Executive Director of Julia Robinson Mathematics Festival) and Professor Tony Chan (HKUST President) as well as sponsorship help from the IEEE Information Theory Society and the Singapore International School (Hong Kong) whose vice-Principal Mr. Bernard Ng and I had a great time working together before.


The Julia Robinson Mathematics Festivals is a project under the American Institute of Mathematics that started in 2007 at Google in the Bay Area (yes it's as old as the cool iPhone). Since then, the festivals have spread to many places worldwide. The idea of the Festivals is to allow young people to develop their talent for mathematics by providing problems, puzzles, and activities that are intriguing and accessible in a non-competitive atmosphere. A diverse audience of young people, school teachers, math lovers in the community come together to explore the joys and power of mathematics with the goal of broadening society's appreciation and support of mathematics. 

We will have a number of math-lovers from the academia and industry who will facilitate at each table of math and to give out raffle tickets! The Algebra Game Project will of course have a table of its own for students to explore the mathematics behind the game. There are also mathematical origami, puzzles and many more that we are creating and preparing right now! 

Stay tuned for April 1st! Here is the Festival poster:




Monday, December 12, 2016

Camera Vibration in Canvas Based Unity Game

Contributions by Alex Ling

Currently I am maintaining a 2D Unity game (check it out here if you are interested). I was trying to implement a feature that when the user gives illegal input, the whole screen would shake (or vibrate if you would) for a while.

Here’s a GIF as a demo. When the user try to multiply of divide a variable with x, the whole screen will vibrate for 0.3 seconds.



I know what you would say, what’s the big deal here? We can simply randomly move the main camera for 0.3 seconds to achieve the effect. I don’t blame you, because that’s what I thought at first glance.
I attached a CameraShaker.cs script to the main camera. The script looks like this




using UnityEngine;
public class CameraShaker : MonoBehaviour {
public float shakeAmount = 0.7f;
float shakeTime = 0.0f;
Vector3 initialPosition;
public void VibrateForTime(float time){
shakeTime = time;
}
void Start() {
initialPosition = this.transform.position;
}
void Update () {
if (shakeTime > 0){
this.transform.position = Random.insideUnitSphere * shakeAmount + initialPosition;
shakeTime -= Time.deltaTime;
}
else{
shakeTime = 0.0f;
this.transform.position = initialPosition;
}
}
}


And in another script I call the VibrateForTime method:





// ...
if (!OperationIsLegal(operation)) {
Camera.main.GetComponent<CameraShaker>().VibrateForTime(.3f);
return;
}
// ...

Then I ran the game and tried it… Oh wait! Why isn’t the screen shaking? I quickly found that it’s because the canvas’ renderMode property is at its default value Screen Space - Overlay


When this property is set as Screen Space - Overlay or Screen Space - Camera, the canvas is always attached to the screen (and of course the camera), and so it’s vibrating with the camera. That’s why we can’t see any vibration happen.

So the solution is simply set the renderMode property to World Space in the inspector. In this way the canvas and the camera are decoupled and so the vibration can be seen.
This should work in most cases, but for me, I found that when set to World Space, the light blue operator when dragged (see the above GIF) will not be displayed. That’s because to position the blue operator at mouse position the coupling between canvas and camera(screen) is needed.

So my final solution is, set the renderMode of the canvas to World Space when the vibration start, and set it back to Screen Space - Overlay once the vibration finish. Since the vibration time is short, this should not affect the display of the light blue operator.
The final version of CameraShaker.cs is shown below:




using UnityEngine;
using UnityEngine.UI;
public class CameraShaker : MonoBehaviour {
public float shakeAmount = 0.7f;
public Canvas canvas;
float shakeTime = 0.0f;
Vector3 initialPosition;
public void VibrateForTime(float time){
shakeTime = time;
canvas.renderMode = RenderMode.ScreenSpaceCamera;
canvas.renderMode = RenderMode.WorldSpace;
}
void Start() {
initialPosition = this.transform.position;
}
void Update () {
if (shakeTime > 0){
this.transform.position = Random.insideUnitSphere * shakeAmount + initialPosition;
shakeTime -= Time.deltaTime;
}
else{
shakeTime = 0.0f;
this.transform.position = initialPosition;
canvas.renderMode = RenderMode.ScreenSpaceOverlay;
}
}
}

Let’s take a closer look at what I did in VibrateForTime:




// ...
canvas.renderMode = RenderMode.ScreenSpaceCamera;
canvas.renderMode = RenderMode.WorldSpace;
// ...

Before setting the renderMode to WorldSpace, I set it to ScreenSpaceCamera first. That’s because by setting it to ScreenSpaceCamera, the canvas will be automatically positioned and scaled to fit in the camera. If I jump from ScreenSpaceOverlay directly to WorldSpace, the canvas will be out of the sight of the camera, and we will need to manually reposition the canvas in that case.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Algebra Game and Algebra Maze on Google Play Store!


We launched our very first mobile apps of Algebra Game and Algebra Maze on the Google Play Store a few weeks ago. 

From day one, the Algebra Game team members basically hit the ground running to put the ideas into code. 

Designing mobile app games is a totally interesting challenge in trying to make the same piece of software work on different hardware before walking through the entire online app submission process (which is something new for us). And this whole process doesn't stop there. It continues in a loop whenever new bugs/ideas surface. Developing software is truly a humble learning experience. 

We are working hard on the iOS mobile apps - so expect to see them in App Store soon.

We are also excited to have made inroads into understanding the mathematics behind the Algebra Game puzzle. (Figuring out the math to compute the fewest moves for puzzle generation thereby answering some of Terence Tao's questions is actually the ultimate endgame for us :) This will aid in cleverer puzzle generation in future improved app release and we will flesh out that too once neatly ironed out.

The Algebra Maze on the Google Play Store currently has forty-five levels altogether, and these are the game levels played by sixty-two primary school students at our first Algebra Game Challenge in Spring 2016. Now that we have posted the first version out, we have embarked on newer game design for the Algebra Maze (and, naturally, to also nail down the math behind our Algebra Maze). We are also contemplating new functionality in these mobile app games to bring out the social element: math is social!
Ultimately, user experience matters the most. And we expect to get as much feedback as possible to further improve our mobile app games. Check them out and let us know! We will be glad to hear from you.

Algebra Game Team members meanwhile take a break from crunching maths and writing software to savor yummy mooncakes.



Saturday, June 4, 2016

Claude Shannon Centenary 2016 in Hong Kong and the 1-bit Maze (A-Maze-ing Dash Challenge)


The Claude Shannon Centenary 2016 in Hong Kong is a series of events held in Hong Kong to mark the life and legacy of Claude Shannon who was a visionary pioneer in the fields of computing, information theory, communications and machine intelligence. I chaired a seminar on quantum information theory given by the 2016 Shannon Award Lecturer Alexander Holevo on 6 May. Also, a Claude Shannon Centenary workshop was organised on 19 May by Professor Raymond Yeung at the CUHK Institute of Network Coding, in which I gave a talk titled "To prove or to disprove: information inequalities and sparse optimization". 

I also delivered this as an invited talk at Tsinghua University in Beijing on 14 May (纪念Shannon诞辰一百周年学术论坛 was organised by the Chinese to celebrate Claude Shannon Centenary). My talk was about using linear programming and cloud computing to automatically generate a mathematical proof or counterexample to Shannon type inequalities in information theory. Fancy that! Shannon's work has engendered the birth of digital computer and information theory and these two disparate subjects converge!



A bigger outreach activity Computer Science Challenge was held on 21 May at the City University of Hong Kong for 180 middle school children (62 upper primary and 118 secondary school students) who formed teams to compete in three digital game challenges. We also had educational exhibits of Claude Shannon and replicas of some of his fun and thought-provoking robotic machines —Rubik-cube manipulators using Lego —on display. 



One of the CS Challenge's tasks was to program a robot to solve a maze and in the process to let the younger generation know more about Claude Shannon (recall that Shannon's Theseus mouse was the very first digitally-programmed maze-solver). The maze for secondary school students was designed with Shannon's entropy - a coin flip decides one of two possible maze entrances, i.e., the robot starts from the left entrance with a Head or otherwise from the right entrance with a Tail. The left and right entrances entail a left and right corner respectively, and the two passages meet at the intersection of a corridor to the exit. Now, a fair coin flip generates one bit of informationIn this way, as the coin is flipped only after the robot has been programmed, this 1-bit uncertainty prevents the participants from hard-coding the robot's movement (i.e., no dead reckoning); The robot has to hit an obstacle (i.e., the corner wall) and navigate its way by trial and error. Check out more pictures and the video below on the 1-bit maze. What a memorable and a-maze-ingly fun 2016 CS Challenge we had!



Saturday, April 9, 2016

Algebra Game Challenge





The inaugural Computer Science (CS) Challenge in Hong Kong will be held on 21 May 2016. The CS Challenge is a one-day contest jointly organized by the Computer Science Department of the City University of Hong Kong, the Hong Kong Digital Game-based Learning Association and Ming Pao Education, and is open to all upper primary and secondary school students in Hong Kong. Three CS-related themes have been designed to challenge the young students to a battle of wits at the Amphitheater of the City University of Hong Kong.

We are very excited to have the Algebra Game Challenge being one of the three CS Challenges. The Algebra Game Challenge will feature the Algebra Game and Algebra Maze with some of their new puzzle levels. The other two challenges are digital games - one a computer game to move animals across hurdles via abstract thinking skills required in computer coding and the other to program a cute robot to solve a physical maze.

The CS Challenge also plays a dual role as part of the Claude Shannon Centenary, 2016 Hong Kong, whose purpose is to mark the life and ideas of Claude Shannon, an American mathematician and engineer, who was a visionary pioneer in the fields of computing, information theory, communications and machine intelligence. Among his many genius creation is Shannon's Maze-solving Theseus Mouse in 1951. This machine ushered in the age of machine intelligence when a computer (using telephone relays) is capable of searching for a solution by trial and error and then remembering the solution. It was also Shannon's Theseus Mouse that inspired Paul Baran, the Internet pioneer to come up with the packet switching principle and dynamic routing underlying our Internet technologies.

During the CS Challenge, educational exhibits of Claude Shannon and replicates of his fun and thought-provoking robotic machines will be on display. We hope the younger students get to know more about Claude Shannon and his marvellous creations as they bravely enter the Maze as Theseus did.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Gamification for Learning Mathematics




As seen by the popularity of Whitehouse's push for Computer Science For All, gamification has been used very successful to promote basic computational thinking knowledge. There are indeed vast potentials in how gamification can be useful for teaching and learning of K-12 foundational subjects such as mathematics.  This is simply because, digital games on a digital computer and ideas of computing (and mathematics) are intimately related. The level of public reception and enthusiasm in the Whitehouse's Computer Science for All was reminiscent of the Nimrod when one of the earliest digital games (Nim) was put into a digital computer and went on a whirlwind roadshow tour in 1951.

Recently, we gave a talk on Ed-tech on gamification for learning mathematics at an entrepreneurship symposium at the City University of Hong Kong (see Facebook photos). We had the pleasure to share with the audience our Algebra Game gamification software and our idea of a Gamification Foundry. This Gamification Foundry is essentially a data analytics platform driven by cloud computing that can serve as a new two-way educational technology in the era of personalized learning.

With this Gamification Foundry, children players can:
  • learn elementary mathematics by playing brilliantly-crafted games.
  • “see” the source-code and remix them to create variants to enhance their computational thinking.
Teachers are always in the loop. Educators can gain insights to these learning processes that can be analysed by big data analytics. Children’s online game-playing learning behavior can be integrated into offline in-class teaching under the supervision of their teachers. We are engineering this gamification foundry as a way to unlock the value of online-to-offline (O2O) learning education.

Beyond enhancing numeracy and computational thinking skills, we also hope to explore whether our Algebra Game software can be useful to children with dyscalculia – a math disability in learning or comprehending arithmetic (estimated to be one in twenty). It was suggested that computer games can diagnose and treat dyscalculia in a recent Nature article Dyscalculia: Number games, Nature 493, 150–153 (10 January 2013).