VCAA’s Greater Literary Offenses

The difficulty of critiquing VCAA mathematics exams is capturing the variety and the frequency and the depth of the flaws, and then summing the overall effect, the fundamentally impoverished approach to mathematics and its testing. Documenting straight out errors is not overly difficult, and even non sequitur questions are manageable: the error or weirdness typically speaks for itself. Capturing the ubiquitous awfulness of the writing, and the intrinsic meaninglessness of many of the questions, however, is harder. Continue reading “VCAA’s Greater Literary Offenses”

The Non-Constant Gardner

Recent events – the bastardisation of Roald Dahl and the burning of history – reminded me of a post I had planned long ago, on Martin Gardner and school libraries. It is often said that Martin Gardner is responsible for creating more mathematicians than anybody else. As the fable goes, a bright-eyed teenager stumbles upon a collection of Gardner’s mathematical writing in the school library, they read away on weird topologies and the Game of Life and so on, they are entranced and another mathematician is born. The fable is not true, but it is true enough. Continue reading “The Non-Constant Gardner”

VCAA’s Lesser Literary Offenses

One of the all-time great literary wallops, by one of the all-time great writers, is Mark Twain’s Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Offenses:

Cooper’s art has some defects. In one place in “Deerslayer,” and in the restricted space of two-thirds of a page, Cooper has scored 114 offenses against literary art out of a possible 115. It breaks the record.

There are nineteen rules governing literary art in the domain of romantic fiction — some say twenty-two. In “Deerslayer”, Cooper violated eighteen of them. Continue reading “VCAA’s Lesser Literary Offenses”

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.

Continue reading “The Indelicate Art of the Mathematics Documentary”