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Mathematical myths, legends and inaccuracies: some examples

I’m teaching a first-year module on the history of mathematics for undergraduate mathematicians this term. In this, I’m less concerned about students learning historical facts and more that they gain a general awareness of history of maths while learning about the methods used to study history.

Last week, I decided I would discuss myths and inaccuracies. Though I am aware of a few well-known examples, I was struggling to find a nice, concise debunking of one. I asked on Twitter for examples, and here are the suggestions I received, followed by what I did.

New issue of MSOR Connections, I’m an editor

MSOR Connections volume 14 issue 1 coverI am now one of the editors of MSOR Connections, a peer-reviewed practitioner journal that welcomes research articles, case studies and opinion pieces relating to innovative learning, teaching, assessment and support in mathematics, statistics and operational research in higher education.

Maths helps maths graduates get professional jobs

The Destination of Leavers of Higher Education (DLHE, pronounced ‘deli’) survey sends a questionnaire to all UK university graduates six months after graduation and this gives some idea of what happens to students once they graduate. It is flawed, but has a high response rate and is an interesting tool.

There is a second type of DLHE survey, which is longitudinal. This surveys graduates 3.5 years after graduation, and the 2010/11 longitudinal data has just been released. This deserves some investigation and I don’t have time right now, but I did notice a couple of tables that make me proud of my subject.

#realfaceofmath

Kit Yates has asked mathematicians to post a picture of themselves using the hashtag #realfaceofmath, in the hope of dispelling the incorrect stereotype that all mathematicians are geeky white guys with beards and glasses (hi!).

Programming to investigate Quarto

I was invited to contribute to a special issue of The Mathematics Enthusiast on ‘Risk – Mathematical or Otherwise‘, guest edited by Egan J Chernoff. I wrote about the Maths Arcade and programming strategies for a game we play there called Quarto. Really, I was sketching an outline of an idea to encourage student project work.

My title is ‘Developing Strategic and Mathematical Thinking via Game Play: Programming to Investigate a Risky Strategy for Quarto‘ and the abstract is below.

Physics with hidden calculus

Crossing campus this afternoon, a student whose exam is later this week asked me “when you ask a real-world question on the exam and you want us to solve an ODE, can we just do it using formula we memorised from A-level physics?” Like what? “Like with one of the distance questions we might just use $v^2 = u^2 + 2as$.” I said that if they were relying on a result we didn’t use in the module and that they hadn’t proven, this would be a problem.

In the latest Taking Maths Further podcast (Episode 19: Computer games and mechanics), we had a puzzle that we say could be answered roughly, but the precise answer 23.53 (2 d.p.) required a little calculus. On Twitter, @NickJTaylor said

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