I’ve uploaded a new video. This one is the first of three on common mistakes in mathematics and is about problems with the square root function. You can see more videos on my YouTube channel:...

## Do students love mathematics? And are they confident of success?...

posted by Kevin Houston

In the first week of teaching I did a quick survey of the students in my first year geometry module. The results surprised me. Some background: I teach a first year module which is not compulsory, however most of the students doing a straight mathematics degree (i.e., not joint with some other subject like chemistry or French) take the module so the results are reasonably representative of this years’ maths intake. In the second lecture I asked the class to complete the following questionnaire: Quick Questionnaire My aim was to discover the students’ motivations for studying mathematics. In the results below and for the sake of simplicity I eliminated the joint honours students who completed the questionnaire so that we can get a clearer picture of those doing straight mathematics. This gave a total of 106 responses. There was a lot of data so I’ll only include the interesting parts. (Well, no-one wants death by Excel graph.) The answers for the two questions about their first and second reason for choosing maths were the following: 1. I love my subject. 2. I want to get a good job. 3. I couldn’t (for whatever reason) do my first choice of subject. 4. I couldn’t think of anything else to do. 5. It was the subject I was best at before coming to University. 6. Other (please specify): So as you can see the winners are I love my subject (48%) followed by It was the subject I was best at before coming to University (38%). This is reassuring, though I do wonder if the first would have a larger share if I had used enjoy instead of love. The winner of the second reason is I want to get a good job at 42%. (To be honest I thought that this number would a lot higher.) The second most popular was...

## Carnival of Mandelbrot...

posted by Kevin Houston

Benoît Mandelbrot 1924-2010 I don’t know when I first saw or heard of a fractal. Maybe it was in sixth form or as a first year undergraduate. But like so many others I was intrigued by them. The man who invented them has died aged 85. Here is my tribute to Benoît Mandelbrot. First here are some obituaries (I’ll update as more appear.) New York Times Telegraph Boston Globe Independent and Independent Opinion Leader Guardian If you don’t know what the fuss is all about, then watch this “fractal zoom” video. Don’t watch it for too long or else it will do strange things to your mind. Mandelbrot Fractal Set Trip To e214 HD from teamfresh on Vimeo. You can see Mandelbrot in action giving a talk about his work at TED. As an undergraduate I tried to read Mandelbrot’s book The Fractal Geometry of Nature. The book was quite a hard read at the time but I got the main points principally because the book was written to be read. In my second year I used my computer to draw a Mandelbrot set. I had learned how to make fractals from the excellent book Beauty of Fractals by Heinz-Otto Peitgen and Peter Richter. I wrote a program and set it running on my computer before going out for the night. The program was so slow that when I returned much later I had only half a Mandelbrot set. Even this was fantastic though. I had my very first fractal! The Mandelbrot set became an emblem at the end of the 80s and was reproduced all over the world, featured in pop videos and was generally ubiquitous. This made it very unpopular with many mathematicians. I can remember when I was a student at...

## Video killed the lecturing star...

posted by Kevin Houston

I’ve uploaded to YouTube the first of a batch of new videos to accompany my book How To Think Like A Mathematician: You can see more videos on my YouTube channel:...

## Marcus du Sautoy at the Ilkley Literature Festival...

posted by Kevin Houston

My Saturday afternoon involved sitting in a hall in Ilkley watching children play musical chairs to demonstrate the population dynamics of lemmings. It’s not often that one can write that. As you can probably tell by the picture, I was at Marcus du Sautoy’s talk at the 2010 Ilkley Literature Festival. The King’s Hall is one of Ilkley’s larger venues for the festival. Outside hangs a large banner for the Complementary Medicine Festival and an advert for a gig by Dr Feelgood (that’s rather fitting said my good friend Paul when we were in Ilkley last week for a different talk). However, Saturday was a mini Maths Day in Ilkley with Rob Eastaway giving two distinct talks at the Playhouse and Marcus du Sautoy giving his at the King’s Hall. The talk, titled The Num8er My5teries, was billed for ages 0-100 and there was indeed a wide spread of ages filling the hall to capacity (about 500). Young people were well represented. The local science communicator Marty Jopson did the introductions — and sneaked in a plug for the Otley Science Festival (16-20 November in case you are interested). The first half of the talk was about primes. Marcus began with a discussion of why David Beckham chose the prime number 23 as his shirt number when he joined Real Madrid. (I’m sure that there’s a good mathematical joke about Complex Madrid but I still haven’t come up with one yet. If you can think of one, email me.) Marcus was aptly dressed in a purple football T-shirt with an equation on the front and with Galilei and a 17 on the back. I’d never seen him give a talk like this before and the first thing I noted is that he talks faster...