A New Way of Looking

Stuart HuntleyThere is a line in Douglas Adam’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy books where two philosophers are trying to solve a conundrum, and make the excuse that ‘their minds are too highly trained’ to come up with the answer.  This is how it felt to be a participant in Simon Mazumder’s challenging session on Teaching for Mastery and Visual Learning as part of the Easter Jamboree of online events for Maths Scholars.  He presented us with simple looking visual problems which most of us overcomplicated with unnecessary algebra as we tried to find the solutions.


My favourite visual puzzle was the one above. Once we’ve reassured ourselves that the word annulus means the area of the ring shape, we are faced with a question which doesn’t look like it has enough information to solve.  After we had struggled for a while and someone bravely put in the algebraic solution using Pythagoras to find the relative radii of the two circles, Simon told us how a primary school child had made the logical leap of considering the inner circle to be a dot and answered the question in a few seconds.

Mastery in Mathematics is about enabling the students to make the connections from one area of mathematics to another and to begin to think in a mathematically fluent way, and not to be so rigid in teaching maths as distinct watertight topics. This session certainly encouraged me to begin to introduce more puzzles to my students during lessons which would help them to think outside the box and to enable them to find the joy in solving challenging problems using all that they have been taught and discover for themselves the true visual beauty of mathematics.

By Stuart Huntley

Maths Scholar 2020/21