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‘Mathemagician’ Challenges and Amazes at CVHS Event

Posted by on May 22nd, 2014 and filed under News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

Photos by Mary O’KEEFE “Mathemagician” Arthur Benjamin challenged students – armed with calculators – to beat him in reaching answers to complex math problems during his presentation at Crescenta Valley High School on Monday night.

Photos by Mary O’KEEFE
“Mathemagician” Arthur Benjamin challenged students – armed with calculators – to beat him in reaching answers to complex math problems during his presentation at Crescenta Valley High School on Monday night.

Students learn some quick math maneuvers and parents are given strategies on how to raise kids to succeed.


Monday night featured a set of events at Crescenta Valley High School designed to educate kids and parents in ways both fun and informative.

It began with “Mathemagician” Arthur Benjamin, a mathematics professor at Harvey Mudd College and a frequent entertainer at the Magic Castle in Hollywood. Benjamin performed a series of math tricks to a crowd of about 100 in Crescenta Valley High’s MacDonald Auditorium, after previously taking part in six separate performances through all six class periods at Rosemont Middle School earlier that day.

Benjamin’s act featured a series of rapid-fire mental math problems. He stunned audience members as he gathered volunteers with calculators to the front and produced answers to five-digit number by five-digit number multiplication problems before they could be computed with the aid of technology. He further challenged volunteers to recite all but one of the digits in each answer, in any order the volunteer wished. Still, Benjamin was able to determine the final digit of each answer promptly and without error.

Benjamin’s mathematical prowess has earned him spots on “The Colbert Report” and chances to host TED [Technology, Entertainment and Design, a website that highlights topics from around the world] talks, where he has spoken about the opportunities afforded those who embrace math.

Karen Bomar, a counselor at Rosemont Middle School, said that having Benjamin speak at Rosemont was a great opportunity to promote the STEM program (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and introduce students to a more approachable side of math.

CV Alliance director Nancy Stone welcomed parents to “What Young People Need to Succeed” which featured speaker Clay Roberts.

CV Alliance director Nancy Stone welcomed parents to “What Young People Need to Succeed” which featured speaker Clay Roberts.

“So many people have such a fear of mathematics,” said Bomar. “We want to show them the joy of math.”

Benjamin also performed such feats as determining the day of the week a person was born simply by knowing the date and listing the numbers that make up pi up to about 60 digits. For the benefit of the audience at CV, Benjamin revealed some of his techniques for his quick calculations, usually a faux pas in the magic community. Benjamin also stayed behind after the show for any who had questions on how to replicate, or at least attempt to replicate, his seemingly computer-like calculations.

So what came first – the math or the magic? Although Benjamin began performing magic shows as the Great Bengenie in high school, it is the math that came first.

“I think I love the attention and showing off and performing, but I have had a love of numbers and patterns for as long as my mother can remember,” Benjamin said.

“I think it is not fair that people can do that in their head,” Catherine Boss, eighth grader, said after she had attended a show at Rosemont.

Sriram Kanduri, also in eighth grade, was in the Rosemont audience.

“I thought he was amazing but I am really annoyed at how easy it is for him,” he said.

Math may come naturally to Benjamin, but for his level of performance it takes practice.

“I can show you in a short amount of time how it all works but to get fast at it you have to invest the time into it,” he said.

Benjamin performs his Mathemagician show about 50 times a year for students; this is in addition to his Magic Castle performances and, of course, his day job as a professor of mathematics at Harvey Mudd College.

The CV Alliance also hosted an event at Crescenta Valley High that night, which addressed the adjustments facing both parents and students as children make the move to middle school and adolescence.

Clay Roberts, a former middle school teacher and a consultant for several agencies promoting the prevention of juvenile delinquency and drug abuse among youths, was the keynote speaker at the event, looking to give parents strategies for tackling the oncoming teenage years.

Roberts began by talking about his two grown daughters, Amy and Emily, listing their many accomplishments in school, work and family.

But after thoroughly praising his daughters, Roberts went on to say, “I could have told you that Amy is never on time. I could have told you that Emily has a temper like her dad’s and that’s not pretty. I could have focused on what was wrong with my children. Instead, I chose to focus on what’s right. You will do more to shape your children’s behavior by focusing on what’s right and not on what’s wrong.”

The event, titled “What Young People Need to Succeed,” keyed on what parents can do to ensure healthy development with their soon-to-be teenagers. Attendees were provided with a list of the Search Institute’s 40 developmental assets, “building blocks” the Institute identifies as aspects of a teen’s life that aid them in becoming healthy, responsible adults. Among the assets are different types of familial support, the will to serve and help others, commitment to learning and a positive sense of self. The Search Institute also surveyed nearly 90,000 students from grades six to 12, a survey which suggested that the more assets a child had, the less likely they were to abuse drugs or engage in risky sexual behavior at an early age.

Roberts did mention that the list does not touch upon everything necessary for healthy development and that the list applies equally for parents as it does for kids.

“You have to build assets for yourselves as well,” Roberts told parents. “You can’t give your kids something you don’t possess.”

Roberts differentiated specifically between “assets” and finances, noting that he saw many families who were “asset rich while being economically poor” and vice versa.

Parents were asked to actively participate in several role playing activities in which they played out different scenarios teenagers routinely face, such as resisting peer pressure.

“Peer influence becomes much more powerful at middle and high school. Your children need to know how to say no to their friends,” Roberts said.

Thus, the parents were asked to role play their child’s friends, attempting to pressure the child into some illicit activity. Roberts provided the parents with helpful counters to the usual responses given when a child tries to resist, such as specifically identifying the trouble they could get into and suggesting an alternative activity.

It proved tougher than expected, as many parents could not think of a plausible alternative for such activities as smoking and shoplifting.

“If you’re having trouble with it, how can you expect your child to successfully manage these situations?” asked Roberts, who encouraged the parents to practice and talk these scenarios over with their kids.

“The single best predictor of whether children make it or not is whether they come from strong, loving, supportive families,” he said. “The fact that we have this kind of turnout speaks well for this community. You are the best asset builder in your child’s life.”

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