**The Story Of Math**

Acorn Media // 2008 // 232 Minutes // Not Rated

**The Code**

Acorn Media // 2011 // 174 Minutes // Not Rated

Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // December 29th, 2012

Engage your mind. Expand your world.

If I may put on my armchair mathematician's hat for a moment, I would argue
that one of the things holding back the teaching of mathematics to grade and
high schoolers is the fact that there is a very definite split between
mathematical thinking, and mathematical doing. It's entirely possible to teach
the rote, mechanical ability to perform various kinds of mathematics -- solve
triangles and quadratic equations or find the limit of a function -- without
actually learning much in the way of how and why these actions should be
performed. On the other side, it's entirely possible to teach people to reason
and think mathematically with ever actually making them perform a single
mathematical operation. In my experience, the teaching of math too-often
emphasizes the former at the expense of the latter. One way to avoid this
problem is to put mathematics in context, and **The Story of Math
Collection** can help students (both in and out of school) put some of the
greatest moments in math history in context.

This set contains two main series:

* *The Story of Math* (or, as it's known in its British title sequence,
*The Story of Maths*) is a four-part, four-hour investigation of some of
the greatest mathematical discoveries in human history. Working as part
travelogue, part educational journey, this series follows host Marcus du Sautoy
(an Oxford professor) to various important locations in the history of
mathematics, explaining the discoveries and their significance.

* *The Code* again follows Marcus du Sautoy as he investigates the
possibility of a hidden mathematical code governing the natural world in this
three-hour, three-part miniseries.

The implicit argument of shows like this is that math is interesting. It's
something other than pure numbers and the mechanical repetition of formulas. In
that respect, **The Story of Math Collection** succeeds admirably. Marcus du
Sautoy is an engaging narrator/educator. He's authoritative without being
pretentious or condescending, and he has a genuine love for the material. He
doesn't do much to tell viewers *how* to do math (which is a good thing),
but the general viewership seems aimed pretty squarely at the over-fourteen set.
There are discussions of equations, and other topics that aren't generally
introduced to younger students. However, both of these programs could be used
with younger students because of the travelogue nature of the show. Du Sautoy is
constantly visiting important sites and using computer graphics to illustrate
his ideas; though some of these ideas might go a bit over the heads of those not
yet introduced to algebra, the visual and narrative flair may keep younger
viewers interested.

This set is obviously aimed at the teaching market; both series come with a
viewer's guide and additional resources on the web. A bonus video -- the
78-minute **Music of the Primes** -- gives students and teachers another
resource for making math "fun" as well. *The Story of Math* comes
with mathematicians' bios as a bonus, while *The Code* gets a trio of short
featurettes that explore other aspects of mathematical order (including a nice
overview of M.C. Escher).

The shows themselves look up to standard broadcast quality. Though they're visually interesting, they're not meant to be big-budget visual extravaganzas. Still, they look good for contemporary broadcast shows, with clean, bright visuals and enough detail to satisfy. Each disc gets no more than two hours of material, so there are no compression problems to be found. The stereo audio tracks does a fine job keeping du Sautoy's voice audible and balanced with the shows' score.

As someone with advanced mathematical experience, I wasn't always engaged with any of these programs. Part of the problem is that I've heard many of the stories before. Many experienced math geeks will no doubt have heard them before as well. The other problem is that I'm not a huge fan of the travelogue format. I get why the show does it, but going to Greece doesn't help me understand the Pythagorean theorem any better. This is another way of saying that I wish the show was a little more innovative in its use of visuals to tell the story of math.

The other issue with this set is one of cost. Unless you caught the show on BBC America and are already a fan, this is a pretty hefty set to buy on a whim. Even those who enjoyed the program will have to ask if the series is likely to get enough repeat viewings to offset the price tag. Of course, for those purchasing the set to support teaching, the price tag will be worth it for all the use you can get out of this set, in a wide variety of classes and with a pretty wide variety of age groups.

For anyone wanting a deeper understanding of the history of math and how it
shapes our understanding of the world, it's a worthwhile investment to spend the
eight or so hours that **The Story of Math Collection** offers. From basic
stories about famous mathematicians to explanations of equations and their use
in everyday life, these series offer a visually interesting overview of
important mathematical topics. Though it's probably only worth a rental to
anyone who doesn't teach, math educators will likely want to snap up this
five-disc set.

Not guilty.

Review content copyright © 2012 Gordon Sullivan; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC

**Scales of Justice, The Story Of Math**

**Judgment:** 88

**Perp Profile, The Story Of Math**

**Video Formats:**

* 1.78:1 Anamorphic

**Audio Formats:**

* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)

**Subtitles:**

* English (SDH)

**Running Time:** 232 Minutes

**Release Year:** 2008

**MPAA Rating:** Not Rated

**Distinguishing Marks, The Story Of Math**

* Bonus Documentary

* Viewer's Guide

* Biographies

**Scales of Justice, The Code**

**Judgment:** 87

**Perp Profile, The Code**

**Video Formats:**

* 1.78:1 Anamorphic

**Audio Formats:**

* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)

**Subtitles:**

* English (SDH)

**Running Time:** 174 Minutes

**Release Year:** 2011

**MPAA Rating:** Not Rated

**Distinguishing Marks, The Code**

* Featurettes

* Viewer's Guide

**Accomplices**

* IMDb: The Story of Math

http://us.imdb.com/title/tt1926910/combined

* IMDb: The Code

http://us.imdb.com/title/tt2060305/combined