Archive for March, 2011

Birthday, again.

March 31, 2011

Last year, I blogged about turning 29 and never being perfect again. It seems I was somewhat unenthusiastic about this year’s birthday, but it’s not such a boring birthday after all: tomorrow my age in years will be the smallest number that’s the sum of three distinct primes.

There are other special properties of 30 of course (after all, every number is interesting) – it is a pyramidal number (1^2+2^2+3^2+4^2) and apparently it’s the largest number such that every smaller number coprime to it is prime.

But the best way(*) to celebrate my 30th birthday will be by making a dodecahedron out of post-it notes. I’ll need 30 post-it notes for the 30 edges of course!

(*) Don’t panic. I’m not so much of a geek that I’ll forget to celebrate with a couple of beers and some good friends too. And maybe some Mobius strips.

The F Word

March 22, 2011

Last month, Rob Eastaway wrote this piece about Maths and Fun. It really resonated with me, because I often come across this notion that we ought to be making maths fun. In fact, one popular perception of the NRICH project is that we exist to try to make maths fun.

This came to mind today as I re-read some of the feedback I got after working with some Year 8 students recently. The project was an extended one, and at the start I explained to the students and their teachers that we would be trying some challenging maths problems and learning new techniques for solving problems, as well as developing ideas like working systematically, conjecturing and proving.  Some of the feedback included exhortations to “Make it more fun” or “More games”. Thankfully, there was also feedback with comments like “Being challenged made me think more”, and some students appreciated that although they sometimes found the maths hard work, they enjoyed the satisfaction they got from solving a difficult problem.

I wrote a while ago about the use of rewards in mathematics classrooms. It all seems to be part of the same issue to me – whether trivialising maths as ‘fun’ or make a physical reward the motivation, we take away the potential for them to derive joy from solving really tough problems and rob them of the discovery that maths can be intriguing and engaging (words I would much rather use than ‘fun’).

Gender, Maths and Car insurance

March 2, 2011

The portions of the internet that I frequent have come alive over the past few days with heated discussion about the European Court of Justice ruling on insurance and gender. I posted something about it on Facebook the other day and got a stream of comments, mostly defending the status quo and saying “Of COURSE girls should have cheaper car insurance than boys!”

What has this got to do with maths education, the subject of this blog, I hear you cry? Well I was thinking about the many studies into differences between boys and girls’ experiences of learning maths, and various measures that are taken to correct the so-called “gender gap” whenever one group is outperforming another. People seem to accept as a given that boys and girls aged 16 should achieve broadly similar results in GCSE maths. When someone says “Well maybe one gender is naturally predisposed to be better at maths than the other”, they are (in my opinion rightly) jumped upon from a great height. Any systems in place in schools which seem to favour one group over another are challenged, and where one gender is slipping behind, initiatives are put in place to challenge this.

So why is it ok to say that boys are naturally predisposed to be more dangerous drivers than girls? And why is there no outcry to close the gender gap in car insurance prices? Why are we not putting initiatives into place to raise our boys to be safer drivers, so they too can benefit from cheaper car insurance?