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Maths Week Ireland 2012

As fans of maths, you’ll all be pleased to hear that in Ireland, they’ve basically got the correct attitude to maths, which is to say they dedicate a whole $\frac{1}{52}$ of their time to it. That’s right, they have an annual Maths Week, now in its ninth year, during which events are organised all over the country, the national and local media get involved, and generally try to get everyone talking about maths.

Maths Week BannerI was invited over for this year’s Maths Week, which ran from 13th-21st October and includes events run seamlessly in both Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic, as well as activities and puzzles on the Maths Week website. The dates of the week are specially chosen to coincide with the anniversary of Hamilton’s discovery of quaternions – and legendary writing on a bridge – and in fact includes a walking tour of Dublin visiting Hamilton-related locations, including the fabled bridge. The week is coordinated by a team based at Waterford Institue of Technology, in their CALMAST unit (Centre for the Advancement of Learning Maths, Science and Technology).

The week starts with a day of Maths In The City, taking place on the streets of Dublin. I took along some of my favourite Maths Busking tricks, and was joined by a huge team from Maths Week including the CALMAST team, Dr Maths (Steve Humble), Paco Gomez & Giovanna Farigu with a musical rhythm activity illustrating the division algorithm, our own Colm Mulcahy doing some mathematical card tricks, Andrew Jeffrey with his maths magic, and several other performers over for the week. We had magic tricks, jumping mazes and tabletop puzzles. Marcus Du Sautoy’s team of Mathemagicians was also visiting from their home at Oxford University. We were joined by a team of students from NUI Maynooth, and spent an enjoyable day entertaining the public and raising awareness.

Learning through playing cowbells (look out for Colm on the left!)I also ran into the organiser of the Dublin MathsJam, and went for a drink at the pub where they meet – I just need another 28 and I’ve been to all of them! We had a mini-Jam with some of the NUIM students and Colm, and learned some new card tricks.

The rest of the week saw me travelling around the country delivering talks and workshops – from a science and maths fair in Mallow, to mathematical origami workshops at Dublin’s libraries, to sessions at Waterford Institute of Technology and Cork Institute of Technology, for visiting groups of school students of all ages. All of the speakers visiting for the week, which also included Colin Wright, David Singmaster, John Barrow, Chris Budd and Fernando Blasco, were sent to all the corners of the country to speak at schools and universities, as well as at evening talks. The Dublin MathsJam organised an event specially for the week, with a talk from Colin Wright.

Maths Week ended with another Maths In The City Day in Belfast on Saturday, featuring the same line-up of street activities. The week also coincided with Martin Gardner’s birthday, and the accompanying Celebration of Mind events – so on Sunday 21st there was a Celebration of Mind at Dublin’s Botanical Gardens, in addition to the many other events around Ireland.

The national media does get involved with the week, with regular daily pieces in national papers, and radio spots with maths puzzles and banter. While not every event gets into deep mathematical ideas, it does get people talking about maths and thinking about numeracy. As well as the organised events administered by the Maths Week team – who also send out posters and information to all schools – it’s also a great opportunity for schools and community groups to run themed activities and focus on the mathematical aspects of their existing work.

As far as I know, no such event exists in the UK – but maybe it’s worth thinking about! As well as raising the national profile of mathematics, it’s a chance for schools which might not otherwise get a visit from a mathematics speaker to benefit from the presence of speakers in their area and funding allocated to the week by its various supporters.

For more information about Maths Week Ireland, visit www.mathsweek.ie.

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