I gave a presentation yesterday to some Year 11/Grade 10 students about why I like maths. I tried to steer clear of the applications of mathematics in technology and science and wanted to give a presentation that made sense from their reference frame – hence if I was giving a presentation to younger students, older students or parents I’d probably choose different things to talk about.
Whilst I think that technical skill and learning content is important in everything we do and aids discovery and creativity, I do think that we don’t do enough in school mathematics to expose students to discovering and creating their own stuff. That’s the fundamental aspect of the talk.
At the start of the presentation, I showed two clips (Clip 1 – if you’re stretched for time watch from 1:50 onwards and Clip 2) about the new Karate Kid film and asked them for their opinions on why he became so frustrated and why he didn’t enjoy learning Kung Fu. The answers are obvious:
1) He didn’t have a clue why he was putting a coat up on a peg and couldn’t see how this would help in his life.
2) Continuous drills of doing the same thing over and over again is not Kung Fu – it’s practice!
In the second clip, even though he knew he’d continue to get bullied, he decided that it wasn’t worth the effort and nearly quit. It was only when he was able to apply skills to a scenario and “Do Kung Fu” that he began to understand and was genuinely shocked at what he’d been able to achieve – he obviously had no idea that he was able to do that and just needed Mr.Hang to provide the right opportunity for him to be creative.
After that, I asked them to read the second page from A Mathematician’s Lament by Paul Lockhart. It’s the part where an Art teacher has a nightmare about observing a class that is solely based on rote learning, drills and no creativity. I said that I felt that my own maths Education was quite similar to that and a student said that this is a common perception about how maths is taught in schools.
After that I started talking about a few examples which I felt would illustrate the playful and creative side of mathematics to a class of 15-16 year old students. Unfortunately we only had 45 minutes so we couldn’t explore things together, it was more about my explorations. It’s highly edited due to the 500MB capacity of vimeo. [By the way, I don't have a clue where I plucked out the 90% statistic towards the end - extra planning was needed here I think!]