Innovation Math Challenge Interviews


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Time [To] Travel, a video produced by Clara Boland and starring her father, Boyd Boland, was accepted as part of the Innovation Math Challenge. Read about this winning father-daughter team.

Tell us about yourselves. What are some of your hobbies, and what drew you to the challenge?

Clara: I graduated from the University of Colorado at Boulder where I studied  ecology and evolutionary biology. While at CU, I spent a lot of time at the Alliance of Technology, Learning, and Society Building (ATLAS) where I was surrounded by technology, arts, and media. I started making videos with my father a couple of years ago. Our first video was about a coal mining accident in Paonia, Colorado, my father’s home town. After that, I spent the last year making videos for the University of Colorado College of Engineering and for the Office of Information Technology. Next year I plan to teach secondary science in New Mexico through Teach for America.

Boyd: I’m a federal judge in Denver. I grew up in Paonia in the mountains of Western Colorado where my father was an apple farmer and my mother taught eighth grade.  

How did you become the actor?

Boyd: That’s what judges do. I’m accustomed to being on center stage and using language precisely.

What was it like collaborating with a family member?

Boyd: Clara learned storyboarding, and I believe in outlining before writing. Those skills are really the same things for different media. We have a wonderful time brainstorming what we’d like to see in a video. Clara always says we have to have a beginning, a middle, and an end.

Clara: The part of collaborating that I enjoy most is that my father reads science books about space and Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein. Whenever we’re having dinner together, he’s sharing tidbits from his books and teaching me science. Storyboarding through conversation draws out our story.

Where did you get your idea to create the video for the challenge?

Clara: When I was a kid my father got a big bass drum and we stood at opposite ends of our block as he pounded the drum. I saw him pounding, but I didn’t hear the sound until a few seconds later.  It was incredible. I had no idea that it takes sound time to travel. The next day, I shared the experiment with my elementary school classmates.

Boyd: In Paonia, there is no light pollution, and the firmament is clear and bright.  I think of it as the “center of the universe.” I’ve always been fascinated by the relationship between space and time and distance. The idea that the light from some of those stars is a million years old and we’re actually looking back in time is astonishing. I wanted to convey that idea. The easiest way was to use the example of our own sun and that it takes eight-and-a-half minutes for the sun’s light to reach the earth. It  sounds like a great science fiction horror film -- what would you do in that eight-and-a-half minutes if you knew the sun had gone out?

What is your favorite part of the video?

Boyd: “When in doubt, count.” That’s Professor Einstein’s advice.

Lawyers frequently say they went to law school because they are bad at math. It’s intended as a joke, but it’s also a self-fulfilling prophecy. Math is really important to lawyers and everybody else. You do yourself a disservice when you convince yourself that you’re not good at math or afraid of it. I use math every day as a judge. I figure out the average time it takes for a case to go from the day it’s filed until the jury renders a verdict; the average cost for parties to hire lawyers; how frequently plaintiffs win and defendants win; and the average awards by juries in various kinds of cases. I use that mathematical information when talking to lawyers about their cases. I tell them that the average time to trial is 28.6 months and that plaintiffs and defendants each win about half the time. I talk about how the average verdict might be $60,000, but it takes $35,000 in lawyers’ fees to get there and then you have a 50/50 chance of winning. I ask the lawyers whether they really want to go all the way to trial, with all of its costs and risks, or whether there is a more common sense way to solve the problem? This math gives people concrete information that can assist them in making informed and rational decisions, and that’s why Einstein says when in doubt, count.

Clara: My favorite part of the video is the drum example because students can take it outside of the classroom and see science and math in action for themselves.

I never used to think of myself as a math or science person. I always liked writing and thought that I would be an English major. By chance I ended up studying ecology and evolutionary biology. I was attracted to parasitology and dove right in. I developed an appreciation for science, and that led to an interest in math. The information in our videos is the same stuff we talk about at the dinner table. Hearing about it as a story is much more interesting than sitting passively in a math class. A video serves as a good springboard for further learning and curiosity.

What advice do you have for future challenge entrants?

Boyd: Prepare, prepare, prepare. Do a storyboard; do an outline; have a script and something you really want to teach. Then it’s worthwhile.

Clara: Have something that can then be taken and tested — connect the video with physical things outside to bring it home and experience it in the real world.


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