Woman holding a cushion in front of her eyes that says Maths is more important than art

In Maths we trust

The inherent beauty of educators is their power to cultivate curiosity... for me, the curiosity in Maths died in about 1992, read on to see how a conversation changed that...

I've started my research interviews with STEM lecturers in Scotland and at last things seem to be making a wee bit more sense.  As part of this process I transcribe our conversations and return them with an autoethnographic reflection.  I'm looking at the use of autoethnography to support reflective practice in the teaching-research nexus and in my own practice as a researcher.  So far, I'm enjoying it and learned a lot about myself which has led to some changes in my own life.

Here, I share my biggest Mathematical lesson....

Silhousette of a wiman
Photo by ThisisEngineering RAEng on Unsplash

I felt really intimidated about speaking to a Doctor of Mathematics. I mean Maths. The most hated of all subjects. I’d scraped a C at GCSE and as an undergraduate I surprised myself by acing the stats modules - but that was a freak occurrence. Besides, stats are applicable…but then again so is Maths, according to [Participant]. When I was training as a forest school educator, we learned about the Fibonacci sequence and how it is replicated in nature in pinecones and leaves. So that tells me there must be something natural about mathematical reality in day-to-day life; but it’s always been a mental block. I am now approaching this interaction as an iteration of my teen-age self.

Sunflower Fibonacci pattern

I come on-line with [Participant] for an initial chat before the interview. My palms are sweating. My heart is racing. How can I ask any sensible questions about Maths when I know nothing? I am kidding no one here. I begin to doubt my own research. Have I adopted qualitative research methods because the thought of mixed methods just scares me? Probably… what’s the probability of a researcher who is scared of maths adopting a qualitative framework?

P(A) = n(A)/n(S)

Where the probability of an event (A) is determined by what the definition of a favourable outcome is (A) within a defined series of events (S). If this was throwing some dice, I could just about handle that calculation. I mean …… a dice has six sides, and you could limit the experiment to say, how many times the dice is thrown. But the thing that messes with my head is that someone may throw the dice in a certain way, or they may use a plastic or wooden dice…. What if they are throwing the dice on a lawn outside on a windy day? At that point I have lost all sight of the equation.

Perhaps that is why I moved from a positivist stance as an undergrad to an anti-positivist. After all, we are human beings, and we live in a world where positivism is affected by our everyday interactions with others and the systems that govern us. There is no black and white. But in Maths, [Participant] tells me there is and I know they are right. I trust them. As soon as I step into the interview, they put me at ease and allow me to trust Maths again. In Maths We Trust. Well, I never did, and it was something I passed unwittingly down to my kids too. National 5 Maths nearly killed them, and me. I just felt powerless to support them until I discovered Mr Graham’s Maths on YouTube. Mr Graham, from the Nicolson Institute in Stornoway, you are my hero. [Participant] you are my hero too. You go and do Maths and you support and encourage folk to do Maths too for the love of Maths.

[Participant] comes from an area of Scotland that I’ve been to, an area similar to Ferguslie Park in Paisley, an area that makes you realise why the SIMD exists in Scotland. This location has been immortalized in a film documentary by virtue of its sheer levels of deprivation. Coming from a rural area of Scotland and an extremely privileged background I cannot even comprehend what that is like to grow up there. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not entirely cosseted. I grew up a young carer for an epileptic and an alcoholic and was orphaned aged 21 during my third year of Uni, but I always had the cushion of money, a home, and a loving, supportive, extended family. I don’t know I’m born. So why fear of Maths? Fear real things like not being able to feed your kids this week, an abusive husband, a street where you don’t go out even in daylight……

GET A GRIP….. following our conversation my daughter is starting S1. “I love everything except Maths, Mum.” [Participant] highlighted to me that the familial promotion of Maths is important to its foundation in education and that links to so many things above and beyond pure maths. GET A GRIP. Don’t be scared. Tell her not to be distrusting of Maths, talk about it, share it, learn more.

This interview was my biggest aspect of mathematical learning I’d ever had to face, and it revealed to me the inherent beauty of the power of educators to cultivate curiosity.

In-text citations

Roy, R. and Uekusa, S., 2020. Collaborative autoethnography:“self-reflection” as a timely alternative research approach during the global pandemic. Qualitative Research Journal.

Thomson, A.I., McLaren, A. and Adams, R., 2019. WIDENING ACCESS TO UNIVERSITY ENGINEERING EDUCATION-AN INITIATIVE TO RAISE SCHOOL ATTAINMENT. In DS 95: Proceedings of the 21st International Conference on Engineering and Product Design Education (E&PDE 2019), University of Strathclyde, Glasgow. 12th-13th September 2019.

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Lucy Beattie

Lucy Beattie

Hi I'm Lucy, a PhD Candidate with the UWS Academy. I'm looking at the role of public engagement in connecting teaching and research in Higher Education

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