Like Going to Camp
All Year Long
In Kevin Bartkovich's high school class in North Carolina, the students are not just learning mathematics, they are discovering and, at the outer limits, inventing it.
The air is thick with locutions such as bifurcation trees, He'non maps, and iterations. Anyone who studied mathematics only ten years ago would be lost in the fog of an unencountered language. For a visitor with a workaday grasp of science and math, the experience is something like dropping down on a street in Budapest and trying to discern the talk of the town. Impressions are all one can come away with, and my chief impression is that the young people here are spellbound, obsessed with what they are talking about, whatever it is they are talking about. Just before the class formally starts, six boys and a girl are huddled around a computer screen mounted on Bartkovich's desk examining what looks like a warped series of elliptical orbits.
"Going here there are x-values, going out there, that's the y-values," enthuses Jason Martin of Morganton, the student who has generated the images.
"That's cool!" sighs one awestruck friend.
Later, when the lights are put out and a projector flashes another computer-driven image on a film screen hanging behind the desk, something intelligible emerges. It looks like a gingerbread man. On closer inspection the gingerbread man is a construction of hundreds of points plotted on a graph that have been generated by a mathematical exercise that has been repeated over and over