Making Maths look Cool

The reason I changed from ‘not liking maths’ to appreciating how useful it can be, was due to a more appropriate teaching method.

What I should first confess is that I don’t like the way maths is taught in France. I spent most of my later schooling years in France. I left England when I was 12 and came to live in France where maths is considered ‘the’ criteria of intelligence.
Maths is not really taught to students in France it is used to filter people in to groups of intelligent and less intelligent people. It goes so far that very few engineers, Directors/CEOs and even politicians will go places unless they are good at maths. A job in France without the appropriate educational credentials means it is hard to get noticed. Creativity, on the other hand is considered the B-path or C-path as well as all ‘art’ type studies.

So should one be surprised that maths, set on a pedestal in France, is taught to kids in the most uncreative way imaginable.

Although I don’t have a direct comparison, I left France with a Baccalauréat and studied maths in the UK at University. Now, the way maths was taught in the UK, actually became interesting and suddenly made sense. Why ? Well because of the teaching methods and the real-life examples used.

In France for probabilities and statistics it was numbers and letters and say Tim and Sally were added by the pure creative maths teacher.
Is it a surprise that the real life examples used in the UK helped to see the utility of maths? I was told that Jo had a Garage and he had just purchased a structure next to the garage in order to create a parking lot. Jo had a choice of three different types of lights to use in the parking lot and they each had different probability of breaking after a certain amount of hours and each cost a different amount.
We were asked to calculate which lights would be the cheapest for Jo if he opened the parking a) from Monday to Friday 09h00 till 18h00 b) from Monday to Saturday 06h00 to 20h00 c) etc.

It wasn’t just about the fact that I was in a Business School or that I had recently helped a friend calculate import costs for his clothes shop. I was faced with a real life solution where maths illustrated how useful it was to obtaining the best solution, sorry probably the best solution. My other experience told me that in real life you also need to take into account various other aspects about the company providing the goods; through their track record, reputation etc.

I’m not really sure how maths is taught in other countries but when I was reading an article today about how the Nobel prize winning president of Caltech thanked the Numb3rs TV series actor ‘David Krumholtz’ for making “maths look cool”, it got me thinking about this. The character in Numb3rs played by David Krumholtz uses everyday examples that people can relate with to explain the concepts in maths. The explanation aims at including people, showing how the method works with real-life examples. Sounds familiar to me…

An education program has been started by CBS and Texas Instruments to provide teachers with educational exercises that precede each show. The concept seems pretty interesting and has spawned blogs like the blog from the Northeastern University Department of mathematics.

So will maths teachers (especially in France) take note of this series success ? Could they imagine teaching in a down to earth way that demonstrates the value of maths or will they continue to think that the mad scientist, detached from reality image is better ?

Our Evolution explained

There is a fascinating article about human evolution at the washingtonpost.com that explains how human genome research has helped understand specific changes in the human DNA around the world :

Europeans seem to be adapting to the increased availability of dairy products, with genetic changes that allow the enzyme lactase, which breaks down lactose in milk, to be available throughout life, not just in infancy. Similarly, East Asians show genetic changes that affect the metabolism of the sugar sucrose, while the Yoruba people in sub-Saharan Africa show genetic changes that alter how they metabolize the sugar mannose.

This quote hit home with me since I sometimes feel I’m the odd one out with everybody being really intent on a ‘nice tan’. Frying under the sun is not something I really participate in that much :

Europeans, for example, show strong changes over the past 10,000 years in genes that affect skin color — as humans moved into northern Europe, where there was less ultraviolet light, there was a strong evolutionary advantage to having lighter skin to allow in more ultraviolet light, which is needed to synthesize Vitamin D.

I find it incredible to read information about myself that is so profound, you’ve really got to love Internet for that…

The impact we have on our environment is a hot debate. Scientists, like those that lead research into human evolution quoted in the article, have alerted us to the disastrous effect we have and are having on the world and environment we live in. It seems that our body is far more intelligent than we thought. It is adapting to these occasionally drastic changes. I’m not sure whether the idea of our bodies adapting to the decrease in physical exercise and the increase in food consumption is good. Turning that trend around might be a far better idea !

On a humorous note (which can be expected over at blogjam.com) there may be a solution to the English hangover issues. This is not really evolutionary since the English have been drinking for a long time and this hasn’t really changed much, LOL ;) As explained above it seems a good idea since it also takes into account the evolution of Europeans with the availability of the enzyme lactase!

Remember when your kids came to you for the answers rather than the Internet ?

I came across a very funny article at MediaPost today called “Google Is Now Smarter Than Daddy” by Gord Hotchkiss and I recommend you read it. I suppose it was also funny to me because it reminded me of one or two recent events.

My younger brother Adam, when I was at my dad’s recently was talking to me while playing some game he’d just bought (blood and guns etc.). I was trying to explain to him what the aim of the web site I had just launched was, and how people could publish articles and others could comment about the article like on a blog. His response was “oh have you seen my blog” and then started showing me his blog and the pictures he’d posted of his younger sister and other pictures and content he had posted. I was pretty astonished on how easy all this seemed to him. I suppose I was comaring to my knowledge of all this at his age (Internet didn’t exist ! just my Spectrum plus console).

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