Really I should be marking essays and exams but I sat through a day of student project presentations so I guess I deserve a rest. I had a good time at the conference in Poland. There were a few delays on the way but as I was travelling with my students, two gentlemen of middle eastern origin, I guess this is to be expected in the current times. The modern conference centre is in the grounds of a picturesque palace which is pictured below. The interior is quite nice too. But what about the talks? Well, one was so bad that I wished that I had brought a video camera. In the coming years I will be teaching our students how to give presentations and this talk was a perfect example of how to alienate an audience. The speaker gave a 55 minute talk in which used more than one slide per minute – all slides densely packed with maths naturally – and read them in a monotone, his eyes fixed to the screen except for three occasions where he looked towards us. Three times in an hour! And those times were all in the first half hour. How can anyone, especially a non-novice, believe that they can give a good talk without engaging in the audience? The conference finished on Friday and as our flight home was on Saturday evening, we went to the centre of the nearby city, Poznan. While we were there we saw a bubble festival. Not sure why they were having a bubble...

## Conference in Poland

posted by Kevin Houston

I’m currently in a small village in Poland about to take part in a conference: http://bcc.impan.pl/sga/ The general public may find it hard to believe but new mathematics is being produced all the time. Not only that the volume of new mathematics is huge. So huge that even the best mathematicians know only a very small proportion of it. This week’s conference focuses on the geometric side of my area of interest, Singularity Theory (it’s a descendent of Newton’s calculus). I’ll be giving a short talk at the end of the week. Haven’t written it...

## Conrad Wolfram on mathematics education...

posted by Kevin Houston

Conrad Wolfram, younger brother of Stephen, created a bit of internet buzz with his TED talk last year. His basic thesis is that we should not focus on drilling students in hand-calculations. This idea is of course nothing new, in an article in the BBC’s Listener magazine, February 1st 1962, the late Peter Hilton argued against teaching of mindless arithmetic as you can see from these quotes: Calculating is a dreadful bore and rotten material for eager young minds I would teach the child how to use a calculating machine and approximate methods–it is important to be able to estimate the size of an answer, but this is rarely taught. In this age of machines we do not need inaccurate, unreliable, and unwilling human calculators… Yet we employ eager and fresh minds in arid and sterile calculation although we have no need of their conscripted computations. As you would expect, I was good at maths at school. But often I was bored. Really, really, brain achingly bored. We spent a lot of time doing tedious calculation after tedious calculation. One teacher gave us 100 exercises to do for homework and as a concession reduced it to 99. I was nearly crying with the boredom, banging my head off the table. Now, if I, someone who was good at maths and actually enjoyed it when exposed to interesting stuff (thank you Mr Milne, wherever you are), found it boring, what torture it must be for those without an aptitude? For me mathematics really got interesting when we were exposed to ideas. I only took mathematics as A-Level because I wanted to be a computer programmer and was told I needed it for that. I was sceptical but had my head turned by ideas such as...

## Study Hacks Blog

posted by Kevin Houston

It is the dream of any student: work less but be more successful. However, this dream can be a reality according to Cal Newport’s philosophy. Actually, he isn’t saying that you shouldn’t work hard – he points out that successful people often work hard – he says that you shouldn’t work so hard that your life is miserable. You should be able study hard and enjoy life. His latest blog post is relevant to maths students and probably comes a bit late for my students about to do their exams. Maybe it will provide motivation for the next academic year: http://calnewport.com/blog/2011/04/28/on-becoming-a-math-whiz-my-advice-to-a-new-mit-student/ There’s plenty of other good stuff on his blog so have a good root around if you aren’t already familiar with his...