The Indelicate Art of the Mathematics Documentary

Mathsy people try very hard to like mathematics documentaries. They will frequently claim that they like them. But they don’t, really, not often, not much. For non-maths people it is much simpler: they don’t like maths documentaries and, if not so intimidated as to hold their tongues, they are generally happy to say so.

The sad reality is that most mathematics documentaries are bad. They are bad art, and they make for bad education.* This was brought to mind by a new Netflix documentary, A Trip to Infinity, and by a recent invitation. The invitation I’ll get to later. The documentary is bad.

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Slate Star Codex: The Lottery of Fascinations

We wrote once before about Scott Alexander’s blog Slate Star Codex (now Astral Codex Ten), on a great post he wrote about psychological testing. We’ve now run into another great SSC post, The Lottery of Fascinations, on Alexander’s lack of interest in mathematics. Here is part of the introduction:

Suppose I were to come out tomorrow as gay. Continue reading “Slate Star Codex: The Lottery of Fascinations”

Applied Mathematics is Bad Mathematics

Yes, the the title is clickbait, but it is not our clickbait. It’s the title of an interesting and semi-provocative 1981 article by Paul Halmos. Halmos’s article came to mind after a brief conversation recently, about applied mathematics in Australia. As with pretty much everything Halmos wrote, it seemed worth sharing.* Continue reading “Applied Mathematics is Bad Mathematics”

When Asking For 3/4 + 6 – 1/4 is Racist

Oh, Canada.

We’re very late to this one and it is way outside our territory, but it feels necessary to post something. In December the Ontario Superior Court, in a 3-0 decision, ruled that requiring prospective teachers to pass Ontario’s Mathematics Proficiency Test (MPT) violated the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The reason? According to the Court, the requirement unjustifiably

… has a disproportionate adverse impact on entry to the teaching profession for racialized teacher candidates …


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How the Other Maths Lives

A few days ago, the Sydney Morning Herald had an article on “the hardest question” from this year’s NSW Extension 2 Exam. The question is worth 5 marks, which equates to 9 minutes of a 3 hour exam (accessible here). The question, and another question (6-ish minutes), which apparently came along for the ride, are posted below. Readers’ homework exercise is to Compare and Contrast. Continue reading “How the Other Maths Lives”

Tony Gardiner: ‘Problem-Solving’? Or Problem Solving?

The following is an article by Tony Gardiner, originally published in 1996 in the Mathematical Gazette. It is reproduced here with the kind permission of Tony, the Chief Editor of the Mathematical Gazette and the Mathematical Association. The original article is available on JSTOR, here (via an educational library), and we’ve also separately posted the problems in Tony’s article here.

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