From time to time life treats you to a pleasant surprise. By the kind involvement of Fernando Blasco, a great mathemagician, I was invited to participate in Maths Week 2010 in Ireland. I enjoyed it very much, mainly because of two mighty reasons: the people and the idea.
Five years ago Sheila Donegan and Eion Gill, from CALMAST (which stands for Centre for the Advancement of Learning of Maths), had this bright idea of bringing maths closer to people of all levels, ranging from primary schools to colleges, by all means possible, including shows in the streets. Their idea was to show that maths is not only that dry, disheartening set of rules passionless, narrow-minded teaching has turned it into. Maths is a celebration of thinking, a celebration in which pleasure, beauty and fantasy are all attired as splendorous as imaginable in their fancy dresses of logic, rigour and tenacity.
Maths is subtly ubiquitous. Go down deep enough into anything and you will find mathematics. Maths Week is precisely about that immersion. Sheila and Eioin want to prove that maths is also pure enjoyment. This year's Maths Week attracted a great deal of attention and participation. Over 86,000 students signed up for activities in their schools and colleges. There were activities for all tastes and levels. Below you can see a map with all the events that took place during that week.
We find fun activities such as the following:
- MATHS ON THE STREETS (held in Dublin and Belfast). A bunch of brave mathematicians sells their commoditiy, a particular one: mathematics, fun mathematics. As hawkers crying out, they present their goods. Some offer maths and magic; others maths and music; there are also intriguing puzzles and mind-absorbing games. In a corner we can see a juggler explaining maths. See the video below (taken from the Maths Week web page).
- LECTURES OF ALL KINDS. Just to name a few, students and teachers enjoyed lectures such as Murderous Maths (with Kjartan Poskitt), Maths and Magic (with Fernando Blasco), The Magic of Maths (with Andrew Jeffrey), Maths is everywhere, even in the Simpsons! (with Matt Parker), or Musical Rhythms and the Greatest Common Divisor (with Paco Gómez).
- ACTIVITIES. Conceived for the students to participate, these included Maths Poster Display, mathematical juggling workshops (with Colin Wright), the Hamilton Walk, Mind your Money (with Richard Burke), or Maths in the Pub (with Steve Humble), among many others.
- DISTINGUISHED LECTURES. There were a number of outstanding lectures. We had a wonderful lecture entitled The Secret Mathematicians, by Prof. Marcus du Sautoy, from University of Oxford, held at the Royal Dublin Society. Another day we attended a provoking talk by Dr Tadashi Tokieda, Fellow of Trinity Hall, University of Cambridge; the title of his talk was Maths with a Sheet of Paper, an exploration of mathematical facts by means of a sheet of paper. The event took place in the seignorial Chester Beatty Library. The last distinguished lecture was by Professor Robert C. Merton, Nobel Laureate, MIT Sloan School of Management. His profound, illuminating talk was entitled Observations on Mathematical Finance in the Practice of Finance and was held at Edmund Burke Theatre, Trinity College.
In order to have an accurate idea of how big Maths Week 2010 was, please, check their web page.
As often occurs, good ideas without the right people are doomed to futility. Since the Maths Week was a phenomenal success, let me introduce the people I met there who made this sweet madness work.
First of all, we have Sheila Donegan and Eion Gill, from CALMAST (Waterford Institute of Technology). They came up with this idea five years ago. They are wonderful organizers -so cheerful and friendly-, they make everyone feel welcome. They have an educational vision that they indefatigably pursue. They are people of action as vision without action is a foggy dream. Only their vision along with their firmness of purpose explains their feat. As a result, they have been able to bring together a knot of people believing in such a vision. Here they are.
FERNANDO BLASCO. A Spanish mathematician and magician who believed that the recreational side of maths can be enormously instructive and proves his point by example. His tricks are quite surprising, but the mathematical explanation he gives afterwards is even more surprising. Check out his web page (in Spanish) to learn more about him. Fernando Blasco is also a great promoter of mathematics and has done TV shows. He has published two books on maths and magic. See Fernando Blasco in action in Maths on the Streets.
STEVE HUMBLE. Steve is also known as DR Maths. He publishes a column in the Evening Chronicle explaining and motivating wider audiences to appreciate and understand maths. He works for the National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics. Apart from that, he is an excellent, fun mathemagician. This year he was in charge of Maths in the Pub, a very brave undertake, indeed. Check Steve Humble talking about mathematics and its teaching in the context of primary schools.
ANDREW JEFFREY. Another great mathemagician with a witty sense of humour. He is the author of several books on maths and magic. He also wrote 100 Top Tips for Top Maths Teachers, a book with such a self-explanatory. His displays a high sense of showmanship at his shows. His tricks are carefully designed to show unexpected sides of mathematics. Check out his web page to learn more about him.
PAUL NUGENT. He is the Teacher Network Coordinator in the Republic of Ireland as well as the Irish Co-chairman Physics on Stage and member of its international steering committee. He is one of those men who is able to create great synergies in the group. His people skills are exquisite.
MATT PARKER. He is a stand-up mathematician, that is, the happy mixture of a stand-up comedian and a mathematician/magician. He delivers engaging presentations to schools as well as comedy shows, both always serving the purpose of making maths fun and appealing. He is quite an accomplished magician. Check out his web page.
COLIN WRIGHT. Colin Wright is a juggler and a mathematician. As a mathematician he did his Ph.D. with Béla Bollobas and has an Erdös number of 2. His area of expertise is graph theory. He also runs a company called Solipsys Limited that created a juggling animation package, Juggle Krazy. Colin is more than accomplished juggler. He has studied the maths behind juggling and, as a result, he gives informative, entertaining talks about that topic. Watch Colin in action in the video below; check out his web page too.
Final note: I was truly honoured to spend a whole week with all these bright, fun, inspiring people. Thanks.
P.S.: When will we organize a similar event in Spain?