I am always on the lookout for movies to show in math class. The history and English teachers are always watching movies. It's only fair that math teachers get to watch something once in a while... (So if you know of any, feel free to post a comment.)

Holes, based on the book by Louis Sachar, is about Stanley Yelnats who is sent to Camp Green Lake for a crime he didn't commit. He is really there because of his family curse brought on by his "dirty-rotten-no-good-pig-stealing great-great-grandfather." (I think I got the quote right. My copy of the movie is at school.)

At camp he digs holes "to build character." He also learns more about his family curse as well as the curse on Camp Green Lake...

It's a great movie even without the math connections. But here are some ideas for practice in algebra. (The last questions even lead into the concept of the derivative.)

One question you can ask before watching the movie:

How much dirt is in a hole that is five feet deep with a diameter of 5 feet?

Answer:

None! There is no dirt in the hole after it is dug... Haha!

Here are some more serious questions to get your students thinking about algebra. If these are too difficult, specify the length of the shovel.

The character X-Ray uses a shorter shovel than the others so he gets to dig smaller holes. Each hole has a diameter of one shovel length and a depth of one shovel length.

If his shovel is 10 percent shorter than the others, how much less dirt does he have to shovel?

If his shovel is 20 percent shorter, how much less dirt does he have to shovel?

What if it is x percent shorter?

For small percentages, is there a linear approximation to the previous question?

At what percentage does the linear approximation no longer work?

As I think of additional questions I will add them. If you can think of any feel free to post them in a comment.

Update: There are other educational resources related to Holes at eduscapes and at The Hole Truth.

Update II: Here are links to Amazon's pages for the movie:

we have a teacher named Mrs.Burke that won't let us watch any movies in math what "educational math viedos" do you suggest?

Posted by: jessica & raphael | April 10, 2008 at 01:47 PM

There is also the new film "Ice Princess" by Disney where a math smart girl becomes a champion ice skater by using her math skills to land a triple. It has raked in 22 million. Not a blockbuster but might be good for middle school girls. Decent reviews but seems a bit far fetched so older kids might not buy into it.

I have to agree, Donald is still the best. Any short film that shows you how to play pool is great!

Posted by: Sean | April 22, 2005 at 08:01 PM

The Math and Computing Club here at my college just got together to watch the pilot episode of the TV show "Numb3rs" and I thought it was pretty good. As far as I could tell, all the math in the show was legit, although the actual use of mathematics in FBI cases is probably a lot messier than the show makes it out to be (ala CSI).

And yes, Project Gutenberg is great. Glad you liked it.

Posted by: robert | April 20, 2005 at 06:49 PM

Do you have the Tacoma-Narrows Bridge film handy? It's the perfect example of how important PDEs are.

Posted by: Eric Jablow | April 20, 2005 at 03:39 PM

For high school juniors and older, the Darren Aronofsky film "Pi" is superb. Essentially, the entire movie is about mathematics and its sundry applications, and the passion of some people for the subject.

Posted by: John McMahon | April 20, 2005 at 07:59 AM

Why don't you show movies and have students use math to show how farfetched the plots are? I think students love to show up adult more than just running some numbers. It also shows students that math can be used to prove to disprove something instead of just getting an answer.

Posted by: superdestroyer | April 20, 2005 at 05:45 AM

Thank you all for your comments and ideas. I had forgotten about most of these. Other ideas are always welcome. I'm especially interested in projects or assignments that could go with the movie.

For example:

After watching Donald Duck, students could make little animations (using cards they flip through) of billiard balls bouncing around.

After reading Flatland, students could do skits (or storyboards) of circles and other shapes interacting. (By the way Project Gutenberg is really cool. Thank you Robert. I'll be blogging more about it later.)

After watching Stand and Deliver students could discuss the logical assumptions made when the "authorities" concluded that the students had cheated. This could lead to a discussion of logical fallacies and other examples in society.

Thanks again for the ideas,

Posted by: Damon | April 19, 2005 at 05:13 PM

Re: EdWonk's comment above, Flatland is also available as an ebook for free right here: http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/201

Dover Press also sells the print copy for $1.

Posted by: Robert | April 19, 2005 at 02:17 PM

Stand and Deliver. In case you haven't seen it . . . it's about an AP math teacher (Escalante) that inspires a bunch of inner city kids to take and master advanced math classes. Great cast, great script . . . and it's a true story.

Posted by: Maria Mahecha | April 18, 2005 at 11:16 AM

I don't know any movies (one of our math teachers shows "Bill Nye The Science Guy" whenever she has a sub.)

But I do know of a fun book that I read when I was younger.

It was called "Flatland." It's all about geometry, dimensions, and the Unexpected. Very readable.

Posted by: EdWonk | April 17, 2005 at 09:41 PM