Talking Maths In Public 2023
Over a hundred people gathered in Newcastle to participate in the 2023 edition of the Talking Maths in Public (TMiP) conference. It was clear from the start that this was a diverse group of people. We heard presentations of people introducing themselves as maths communicators, as teachers, as mathematicians, as maths educators.
The TMiP community is open and inclusive, and if the talks and presentations of the conference were good, the coffee breaks were absolutely fabulous.
The conference was opened with a series of lightning talks, a 5- to 10-minute slot for speakers to demonstrate an event, skill, tool, including a presentation by Phillip Legner about Mathigon Polypad, an amazing online tool linking polygons and music. In a live demonstration, we heard how to compose a melody from the sides and angles of polygons! The same session had presentations about the Chalkdust magazine, a magazine for the mathematically curious, roots2grow, visual and handheld activities for wellbeing maths focussed on those who have Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, and Mathsaurus, a YouTube channel turned resource bank.
On the following day, we heard from the Advanced Mathematics Support Programme (AMSP), including the Why Maths video collection, where young people discuss their own experiences of studying Post 16 maths. Also, from the AMSP, initiatives on diversifying the maths curriculum, with many resources included in a Padlet board. The same session had presentations from Maths on Toast, a family maths charity, and MathsWorldUK, who are looking to create the UK’s first national mathematics discovery centre.
Earlier this year, you might have heard about the discovery of the hat tile, a shape that allows to tile the plane without any periodic tilings. Chaim Goodman-Strauss, a co-author of the original paper talked about the discovery of the hat tile, and how to present tiling and symmetries in an interactive manner. David Smith, the very discoverer of the hat tile, who has been described as a hobbyist, was also in the audience. Chaim won the National Museum of Mathematics Rosenthal Prize in 2021 with a project called Tooti Tooti, about creating tessellations from ordinary envelopes.
A highlight of the TMiP conference are the skills workshops. There were four parallel sessions, including a hands-on introduction to 3D-printing that included online design tools, public libraries of 3D designs, and examples of 3D-printed shapes to help in a geometry class. There was also a session on Digital Tinkering, where we used widely available components (such as Micro:Bit) and instruments to attempt to create a musical instrument controlled by a randomly moving mechanism. This was based on the leader of the workshop’s, Jonathan Sanderson, Connect project, which aims to enable families to build devices and tinker and “connect communities through ridiculous Internet of Things devices”.
The Everyday Maths panel session, led by Cat Van Saarloos, Rob Eastaway and Katie Chicot, would have been particularly interesting for Maths Scholars readers. Cat specialises in the A-Level Core Maths at the MEI (Mathematics in Education and Industry), Rob is an author and the director of Maths Inspiration, and Katie is the CEO of Maths World UK. We heard about the impact of Core Maths and all the available Core Maths resources Cat has produced, Rob demonstrated that different groups of the public require different communication topics/techniques and how this is mirrored in the classroom across ages and stages, and Katie spoke about her work with the Open University and how she sees that mathematics seems to operate as a gatekeeper including/excluding people from STEM. The panel had many discussions, notably on the use of pseudo-applications of mathematics in the real-world, particularly in exams (e.g., questions that are almost believable).
It is difficult to highlight any particular keynote presentation. They were all exceptionally good and engaging! Howie Hua talked about his TikTok videos, and discussed the importance of humanising maths communication – “Math needs a better marketing team”. Howie illustrated the use of memes and clickbait titles to engage the audience. Howie’s videos include many examples of mental mathematics that can be used in the classroom to talk about number properties and arithmetic.
TMiP offered a unique opportunity to learn and talk about how to best communicate maths, and the cross pollination of ideas between social media and the classroom opens the door to many innovations in maths teaching. Keep an eye for the next edition of TMiP, hopefully in 2025!
The writers of this article would like to thank the organisers of TMiP for a wonderful conference. James and Eduard would also like to personally thank the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications for supporting their attendance.
Eduard Campillo-Funollet (Lancaster University)
Robyn Goldsmith (Lancaster University)
Holly Justice (University of Nottingham)
Victoria Sánchez Muñoz (University of Galway, Republic of Ireland)
James Van Yperen (University of Sussex)
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