Is there a painless or fun way to learn math? Not that we ever heard of, which perhaps is why so few American youngsters choose careers in mathematics and science compared to children in Europe and Japan.
It's not that Americans are lazy; it's just that, in an age of instant gratification and material distractions, the situation is not unlike the one described in the story about the farmer, the mule and the 2-by-4: The mule was so smart he could answer any question the farmer put to him -- but you had to get his attention first.
Now Dr. Paul Hanle, executive director of the Maryland Science Center in Baltimore's Inner Harbor, may have found a way to do just that. With an $800,000 grant from the National Science Foundation and a $500,000 gift from IBM, the science center is set to mount the most ambitious exhibit in its history and one of the largest math projects in the nation. Entitled "Language of Patterns," the $1.3 million show will take three years to complete and will become a permanent part of the science center as well as its traveling exhibit.