Mathematical discovery is thrilling! Cédric Villani
Can you teach Maths and thrill your students?
With his now famous cravat and flowing locks he looks every part the maverick genius. His words are always infused with energy and an element of surprise that people may not think exactly as he thinks.
Certainly Villani’s ideas and enthusiasm for mathematics is legendary.
What is it that French people do better than others? He asks. He starts his lecture with this question and answers it. The top 3 answers might be ‘love, wine and whining!’ But actually he goes on to say the true answer is mathematics! Did you know that Paris has more mathematicians than anywhere in the world? There are also more streets named after mathematicians. When we discuss a change of culture in our attitude to maths in the UK perhaps the French can show us the way .
So what is it that the French find so sexy about maths?
After all, to many it seems like an abstract range of computations and formulae. Villani wags his finger and smiles and says it’s not dull and not about computing as it is about reasoning and proving and imagination and about finding the truth.
‘There’s nothing like the feeling after months of hard thinking’ Villani states, ‘than when you finally find the reasoning to solve your problem. This feeling has been likened to sexual pleasure but it’s a feeling that can last for hours or even days! The reward may be big because hidden mathematical truths permeate our whole physical world and although they are inaccessible to our senses but can be seen through a mathematical lens.’
The Law of Errors
‘Close your eyes for a moment and think about what is going on around you. Invisible particles from the air are bumping against you by the billion each second in complete chaps but their statistics can be predicted by mathematical physics, for example the Gauss Curve or Law of Errors. This is an example of the universality of the supreme law of unreason. See an example of this at 3.26 mins into his lecture (link below) He talks about replacing a beautiful coincidence with a beautiful explanation.’
Can Villani’s passion inspire future teachers of Mathematics?
If we can communicate this passion with this beauty perhaps we have the chance to imbue our students with the curiosity and imagination necessary for mathematics. For too long the creativity and artistry of mathematical thinking has been hidden. We need to inspire students to want to communicate the adventures in mathematics to their students. We need to inspire, create, excite and allow youngsters to catch the kind of enthusiasm Villani demonstrates throughout his talk.
Watch Villani’s TED talk right here.
If you are thinking that a career teaching mathematics appeals then hop along to our home page and see how you can apply for a Maths Scholars scholarship grant of £25 000 to help you fund your year. To be a Maths Scholar will enable you to spend time with other passionate trainee teachers, belong to great mathematical associations and also have access to resources, additional events and training. Being a Maths scholar will enable you to invite future mathematicians in your care to replace a beautiful coincidence with a beautiful explanation.
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