Posted by: John Colby | Friday August 29 2008

Can you make maths interesting?

It is unfortunate that many students see maths as irrelevant and simply there to get in the way of what they want to do in life, which is make a living. However, not unreasonably, the vast majority of employers require mathematical skills in their employees.

What I’m finding is that many think that maths has been reduced to a task that has to be got out of the way or, worse, ignored in the hope that it’ll go away. They have picked up this atttude from their previous edication in schools and colleges before coming to university.

Of course there are many theories about what’s going wrong. There also seems to be some sort of pride in being bad at maths. Or maybe being good at maths is an admission of cleverness that results, too often, in school accusations of geekiness, of possible ostracism and bullying.

I’ve been thinking about how to set about countering this attitude for some time. A recent discovery has been the book “Mathematics: From the Birth of Numbers” by Jan Gullberg.** The author was a physician who became interested in maths, partly through his son taking an engineering degree, partly through disillusionment with publish figures relating to his profession and partly through his own interest.

It’s a history book when all’s said and done. A technical history book, but a history book nevertheless. But it does seem to contain material that will interest people to become interested, if that is not a tautology. We can but try. It’s going on my recommended reading list.

**Gullberg, J. (1997). Mathematics: From the Birth of Numbers. London: W.W.Norton and Co.
ISBN 978-0-393-04002-9



  1. Love your blog! Keep up the good work. Check this out:

  2. I may be the exception to the rule for students, but I’ve always found maths not only vital to understanding computers, but actually a useful skill. Try explaining to another programmer who doesn’t understand mathematics Big O notation and you’ll soon hit a brick wall.

    Also, only just found out you ran a blog (I was a student last year). Very enjoyable reading so far.

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