Education…how Donald Duck came to love maths

What’s more strange: the fact that Donald Duck starred in a movie about mathematics or that said movie was nominated for an Academy Award?  Donald in Mathmagic Land is a 27-minute Donald Duck educational featurette released on June 26, 1959.

In the film, Donald enters the strange Mathmagic Land with the view that maths is only for “eggheads”.  He encounters trees with square roots, a stream flowing with numbers, and a geometric bird reciting (almost perfectly) the first 15 digits of pi.

Some of the concepts explored in Donald’s journey include:

Pythagoras and music

Donald discovers the relationships between octaves and string length, which develop the musical scale of today.  Next, Donald finds himself in ancient Greece, where Pythagoras and his contemporaries are discovering these same relationships by holding a musical “jam session”.

Pentagram, golden section, and golden rectangle

Donald then sees how the mysterious golden section appears in the pentagram. Next, the pentagram is shown to contain the pattern for constructing golden rectangles many times over, and how the golden rectangle appears in modern and ancient art and architecture.  The golden rectangle, by the way, is one where the ratio of length to breadth is the “golden ratio” of around 1.618.  (The everyday rectangular object that most resembles this shape is, ironically, the credit card.)

Human body and nature

Donald learns how the golden rectangle and pentagram are related to the human body and nature, respectively.  The human body contains the “ideal proportions” of the golden section and the pentagram and pentagon are found in many flowers and animals.

Games

Donald learns that mathematics applies to games that are played on geometrical surfaces, including chess, baseball, football, basketball and hopscotch.

Mental exercises

Donald plays with a circle and a triangle in his mind.  He spins them to make them respectively into a sphere and a cone, and then he discovers useful inventions such as the wheel, train, magnifying glass, drill, spring, propeller, and telescope.

Infinity and the future

Donald discovers that pentagrams can be drawn inside each other indefinitely. Therefore, numbers provide an avenue to consider the infinite.  Deep stuff!

 By the end of the film, Donald understands and appreciates the value of mathematics. The film closes with a quote from Galileo: “Mathematics is the alphabet with which God has written the universe”.

Watch Donald in Mathmagic Land here …think it could count towards CPD?

Pamela Hellig