September 22, 2021

Mathematics Is Beautiful

Imagine, Teachers of Mathematics, that you are standing on the stage of a school hall at the weekly school assembly. You are next to speak. In front of you are 1500 bored teenagers sitting on the wooden floor in hot stifling conditions. The assembly has already been going more than 15 of its allotted 20 minutes. I found myself in this predicament soon after taking up my position of Head of Mathematics at my last school. Here I was about to engage in my first public speaking performance on the subject of Mathematics. What could I say, as the new head of Mathematics, to inspire the assembled hordes of teenagers to listen to what I had to say about the Australian Mathematics Competition.

You can imagine the negative images that raced through my mind in the moments leading up to my taking the microphone for the first time. The time waiting to speak seemed like an eternity. The thoughts going through my mind were the images of difficult days in my life as a mathematics teacher. I’m sure you have experienced some of these in your own days in the maths classroom sitting on the other side of the desk from the teacher.

Let me tell you about some of them. Picture the start of a lesson. I ask the class to show me their homework. I check it! Tom has not anything on his page!

“I just could not do it sir! This stuff is so hard!” “I don’t understand it! I just don’t get it!”

“What don’t you understand?”

“I don’t know.”

The image switches to a parent teacher evening. I am with a distraught mother discussing her daughter’s lack of success. She says to me:

“I hated maths. It never made any sense to me, how can we expect my daughter to be any good at it and anyway Maths is not a girl thing.”

The scene switches once again to another parent interview. This time I am talking to a highly successful businessman about his son’s lack of progress and interest in Maths.His words came back to me with a real start”

“Maths never made any sense to me.

It was just not relevant!

I flunked maths but look at me now.

I really didn’t need this stuff.”

Then, all of a sudden, my mind was thrust back into the present. I had a job to do – an important job, too. After all, the skills of mathematics were second only in importance to skills of learning our native language! It was my responsibility through my enthusiasm for mathematics to get that message through to our students. This was my challenge and I had to rise to it here and now in front of these 1500 bored teenagers.

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