Mathematical fascination- stepping beyond the curriculum
Four questions that bothered me when I was young:
1. If people are poor, why can't the government just print more money?
2. Will I have time to learn how to drive before the sun blows up?
3. How long would it take me to walk to Bangladesh from London?
4. Are all scientists and mathematicians white and male?
These were some of the questions that were going through my head whilst growing up.
At age 5: I came to England from rural Bangladesh. Although I did not speak or understand the English language, I was fascinated by seeing people in cars, TVs at home, massive supermarkets stacked with food - I asked my dad why can't the government just print more money and just give it to the poor people in Bangladesh so we can all live like this? He wasn't listening - gave me a Kinder Surprise egg instead.
It wasn't until I started secondary school that this question was answered.
At age 6 or 7: I remember watching TV, (I think it was an episode of Star Trek or maybe Star Wars Episode IV - A New Hope) I saw something that looked like the Sun (or possibly the Death Star) blow up in front of me - I started thinking about our Sun and how long it would take before it completely disappears and wipes out everyone - and would I have enough time to learn how to drive before this happens?
At age 8: A bad experience in school really made me miss my home country. I checked my pockets - I had a 10 pence coin; enough to purchase a Calypso juice, a packet of Tangy Toms and a couple of Black Jacks but not enough for a plane ticket, so maybe I can just walk it to Bangladesh? It didn't seem too far on the globe in the classroom.
In year 5: In an assembly, during the Pi day, we had a “fun” session on the history of maths. I don't think anyone was listening, or else they would have noticed that ALL the mathematicians and scientists that were featured, from Archimedes to Einstein, were white and male.
Those were some early mathematical questions and observations that were in my head. However, my teachers did not know how to answer these questions, no one in my family was really interested in my queries; a trip to the library was no help because I couldn't read well and the AOL disc to access the internet hadn't been discovered yet. These questions bothered me but over time I slowly lost interest in finding the answers.
Then in secondary school, I had a brilliant maths teacher; Mr Gerrie Irwin. He was probably the smartest person I have ever met. He knew everything! And those questions that were bothering me at a young age, I finally had someone to ask.
Most mathematicians that I've met have had a very inquisitive mind from a young age but the structure and robustness of the education system meant that their questions about the maths around them almost always went unanswered. Hence children grow up to think maths is just number crunching! Important as this skill is and highly valued by the students, they rarely see the fascinating, amazing and sometimes surreal side of maths (unless they are lucky enough to be taught by their own Mr Gerrie Irwin).
Our maths curriculum booklets have this fascination in maths embedded within the lessons where the teacher can take a few minutes to inform or discuss some of these facts, events or historical misrepresentation. Our aim is to teach the students maths as well as bring out the love and sense of wonder that comes with this subject, give opportunities to ask questions about the history of maths and discover that maths is actually fascinating and beautiful.
Answers to the above questions:
1. You can't just print more money because of “supply and demand”. The more money people have, the more expensive goods become because of the demand increases. Therefore people will have money but still won't be able to afford the product
2. There are still about 7.5 billion years left before the Sun dies. However, Earth will die long before that, in about 5 billion years time. The Sun would have turned into a Super Red Giant by then engulfing Mercury, Venus and Earth and wiping out all history of life on Earth, all of man's achievements, creations and discoveries!
I passed my driving test when I was 18.
3. Under 6 months if you only rest for essentials (eat, drink, toilet break, shower, NOT to take selfies or to update your WhatsApp status), sleep for just 6 hours every night and be an expert at climbing mountains, swimming across the Channel and surviving in the wild and deserts
4. Plenty of non-white male mathematicians and scientists have been neglected in the history books. Arab mathematicians were the first to discover algebra thousands of years ago, Chinese mathematicians were one of the first to use decimal numbers, Hypatia - female Egyptian mathematician, the first to create hydrometers to measure liquid density. The list goes on, good luck finding these names in the maths or science textbooks.