A while ago I made some recommendations for fun living math books that would inspire and educate students who have an interest in mathematics. Along those lines, here is a list of some of the videos we’ve enjoyed. Many can be found online at various websites or on Amazon or Netflix, but I’m leaving out links since availability changes quickly.
The Story of One (2005) – This hour long BBC documentary about the history of numbers is my favorite! Presented in a humorous and highly entertaining style, it is perfect for kids ages 6 and up, but also educational and interesting enough for adults. The Amazon DVD is overpriced but the video is available at various places online and some libraries.
Between the Folds (2008) and The Origami Revolution (2017) – These fascinating documentaries are about origami as an art form with mathematical insights. I recommend for ages 10 and up, or younger if highly interested in origami.
Flatland: The Film (2007) – A very well done animated interpretation of the classic by Edwin Abbott. My son was riveted by the drama and concepts of this world. Available for purchase on Amazon and also online. Ages 7 and up.
The Secret Rules of Modern Living: Algorithms (2015) – Available on Netflix, this hour long documentary covers algorithms of various types, including traveling salesman, sorting, and other optimization problems. My son learned a great geometric representation of Euclid’s algorithm for finding greatest common factors simply from watching this show (his demonstration pictured above). Great for ages 8 and up.
Fermat’s Last Theorem (1996) – This documentary about Andrew Wiles, who solved one of the world’s most famous math problems, is absolutely gripping. The emotions and tensions involved and the peek into the lives of how academics actually work on problems makes for a great film for the budding mathematician. Recommended for ages 12 and up. Available at various places online.
The Great Math Mystery (2015) – A one hour NOVA documentary that discusses some of the mysteries of mathematics like finding Fibonacci numbers in botany, the connection between Pi and probability, and the idea that the mathematical underpinnings of reality might be proof that we are living in a simulation. This show is a survey of topics and thin on explanations but high on wow factor. Great for inspiring students to appreciate and find mathematical connections. Recommended for ages 10 and up. Available online and on DVD.
The Story of Maths (2008) – This four part BBC documentary about the history of mathematical development is a little more in-depth and serious than some of my previous recommendations, so younger students might find it dry. Its great for ages 12 and up who are interested in math and history. Currently available on Netflix.
The Code (2011) – This three part BBC series has a slightly sensationalistic style and explores how numbers and shapes play a role in the natural world. My son found the third episode on prediction the most interesting. Recommended for ages 8 and up. Currently available on Netflix.
Finally, no discussion about math movies would be complete without mentioning the 1959 classic Donald Duck in Mathmagic Land! Great for all ages and available online.
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