Burkard’s and My VCE Mathematics Exam Critique

Burkard and I were planning this for later, but given the Guardian has named us and linked to the relevant document, I may as well post on it. Below is a critique of the 2022 VCE exams, which, after prior discussions, Burkard and I wrote at VCAA’s request. This critique was the basis (sort of) of VCAA’s external review of the VCE mathematics exams, which was finalised earlier this year.

I will soon have much more to write on the background to all this, and on VCAA’s external review.

Continue reading “Burkard’s and My VCE Mathematics Exam Critique”

A Maths Ed Lecture From Long Ago

I have a heavy post coming very soon, but it seems worthwhile first getting in this quick, light one.

Once upon a time, before going off the rails, I was a (semi)regular mathematician. I proved theorems and stuff like that. I was a committed lecturer and, with all due humility, a very good lecturer, but I had no specific interest in “mathematics education” and I knew nothing about school mathematics. That began to change around twenty years ago when, back in Melbourne, I somewhat randomly began talking to mathematics teachers. I soon realised that most Victorian mathematics teachers, even very dedicated ones, knew little mathematics and understood less. I began giving talks to teachers and then public talks, and I discovered the obvious about myself: I am significantly better at telling jokes than proving theorems. Burkard then appeared and it all took off, first with the popularisation, which Burkard has continued, and now with my gadflying. Some years earlier, however, before all this began, I bumped into my future occupation, and into a maths ed titan. This is the story of that bump. Continue reading “A Maths Ed Lecture From Long Ago”

The Westminster Declaration

A couple days ago, Matt Taibbi, Michael Shellenberger and others launched the Westminster Declaration. Signed by 138 big shots and very big shots, the Declaration is a powerful statement on the importance of free speech and the current threat to it from very strong censorious forces. The Declaration begins,

We write as journalists, artists, authors, activists, technologists, and academics to warn of increasing international censorship that threatens to erode centuries-old democratic norms.

Coming from the left, right, and centre, we are united by our commitment to universal human rights and freedom of speech, and we are all deeply concerned about attempts to label protected speech as ‘misinformation,’ ‘disinformation,’ and other ill-defined terms.

And, later,

We stand for your right to ask questions. Heated arguments, even those that may cause distress, are far better than no arguments at all. 

That’s all you really need.

It’s a great statement, both in its general call for principle and in its naming of specifically dangerous legislative schemes. This includes singling out Australia’s idiotic and insidious draft legislation on “misinformation”.

The introduction to the Westminster Declaration is here, and the full statement and list of signatories is here.


One of the movies that didn’t make it into Math Goes to the Movies, appearing just too late, is the 2011 Korean drama, Unbowed. The movie is a legal drama about a mathematics professor and contains almost no mathematics. But mathematics underlies the story, which begins with the professor finding an error in his university’s entrance exam, and with his mathematics department’s reaction: Continue reading “Unbowed”

Math Goes to the Movies

I started writing a post, but the introduction grew to the point of crowding out the actual post. So, here’s the “introduction” as a separate post, and the next post will be the post post.

About fifteen years ago, Burkard came up with a “great idea”: he and I should write a book about mathematics in the movies. I agreed immediately with Burkard’s “great idea” and we began hunting and collecting and organising, and then writing about movies with maths. This included movies such as A Beautiful Mind and Stand and Deliver, with a mathematician or mathematics teacher at the heart of the story, as well as movies that, for whatever particular reason, just happen to have some notable mathematical scene.

Continue reading “Math Goes to the Movies”

Matt Taibbi Tells Europe to Go Suck a Bag of Dicks

Matt Taibbi is a great reporter. He is sometimes referred to as a gonzo journalist, which is not unreasonable given Taibbi’s wild early days, and given that for years Taibbi was the politics journalist for Rolling Stone, following in the footsteps of the legendary Hunter S. Thompson. But Taibbi is, at least now, very different. He is incredibly hard working, meticulous and very careful with his words. Which is why it was striking when, a few days ago, Taibbi told Europe to go suck a bag of dicks. Continue reading “Matt Taibbi Tells Europe to Go Suck a Bag of Dicks”

Belabouring the Real World

Bridget Phillipson is UK Labour’s shadow minister for education. She is proposing a new program, “phonics for maths”, which sounds like a good thing. Countering Rishi Rich’s idiotic demand that everyone study mathematics until they’re 50, Phillipson gave a speech a few days ago, with a decent chunk on primary school mathematics:

“Maths is the language of the universe, the underpinning of our collective understanding. It cannot be left till the last years of school.”

“… it’s why I’m proud to tell you today, that we’ll tackle our chronic cultural problem with maths, by making sure it’s better taught at six, never mind 16.”

Great. And how is Labour to do this? Well,

Labour says it will replace Rishi Sunak’s demand for compulsory maths classes until 18 with improved maths teaching for younger children and “real world” numeracy lessons for pupils in England.

Bridget Phillipson, the shadow education secretary, will tell Labour’s conference in Liverpool that its curriculum review would “bring maths to life for the next generation”, using practical examples drawn from household budgeting, currency exchange rates for tourists, sports league tables and cookery recipes.

Not quite. Phillipson tinkered with her speech after feeding it in advance to the media. So, “real world” is no longer there. But, the real world message is:

“Because be it budgeting or cooking, exchange rates or payslips, maths matters for success.

And I want the numeracy all our young people need – for life and for work, to earn and to spend, to understand and to challenge, I want that to be part of their learning right from the start.”

Yep just like phonics, which is, of course, all about the real world.

These people are always the same, the emphasis on “the real world” demonstrating only that they understand nothing of mathematics education. Greg Ashman responded perfectly to a tweet making this point: “It’s a ‘tell’ as the poker players would say”.

Phillipson may have deleted “real world” from her speech but there are still plenty of tells.