In this series of posts, we’ll be featuring mathematical podcasts from all over the internet, by speaking to the creators of the podcast and asking them about what they do.
We spoke to Susan Okerere, who hosts the Maths Appeal podcast with fellow maths teacher and University Challenge star Bobby Seagull.
What is your podcast about?
The Maths Appeal podcast aims to make maths accessible to everyone. Co-hosts Bobby Seagull (from University Challenge) and Susan Okereke are both maths teachers that are passionate about maths and maths education and they are on a mission to show that maths is for everyone!
Maths Appeal started as an idea between Susan and producer Jenny Nelson, who are old friends from university (They met at Edinburgh’s student radio station Fresh Air). Jenny went to work in the world of radio and Susan became a maths teacher. When out together they noticed how differently people would respond to their respective jobs – Jenny would often receive looks of keen interest, whereas the general reaction to Susan would be looks of horror, or comments along the lines of ‘I hated maths at school!’
So Susan and Jenny decided to produce a podcast that challenged the often negative attitudes to maths by showing people that maths isn’t always scary or daunting – it can be interesting, playful and fun. They decided a maths podcast would be a more entertaining listen with two presenters who were teachers so they reached out to television presenter, teacher and fellow maths fan Bobby, and luckily he agreed to meet up! The three of them first got together one summer evening in 2018, they shared their goals to get people enjoying maths and Bobby and Susan bonded on their love of drinking hot water… and the rest is history!
Who is the intended audience for the podcast?
The Maths Appeal team aims to welcome everyone into the world of maths, from students and fellow maths teachers to people who fancy learning something new on their commute. With its conversational style and light-hearted tone, Maths Appeal shows that maths is not to be feared, but embraced, because it’s all around us.
What is a typical episode like?
A typical episode is around 30 minutes and is in three sections. In the first section, Bobby and Susan discuss a maths topic, such as place value, percentages or multiplicative reasoning, and they tackle each one by chatting about key aspects of the particular subject, how they go about teaching it at school, and the difficulties that students tend to face when trying to get to grips with it, then Bobby sets a puzzle related to the subject.
In section two, while listeners work out their answers to Bobby’s puzzle, Susan interviews a guest who uses maths as a key part of their career or a celebrity who has a passion for maths. The Maths Appeal series one maths champions included TV presenter Johnny Ball, writer and broadcaster Alex Bellos, co-founder of F equals Danielle Newnham, comedian Ken Cheng, writer Simon Singh and CEO of STEMettes Anne-Marie Imafidon, all sharing their interesting and varied maths stories.
In the third section, Bobby and Susan share their solutions to the puzzle set and the episode ends with a little maths factoid.
Why should people listen? Why is it different to other mathematical podcasts?
As well as hearing from the fab Maths Appeal guests, you get to experience the relaxed vibe between Bobby and Susan as they discuss maths topics, almost like you are a fly-on-the-wall listening into their conversation while they are sat down for a coffee in the maths staff room or while they’re waiting for a bus.
The podcast gives you a safe space to try and work on your maths. For example, every episode has a puzzle. There is no compulsion to do it, but you are given the encouragement and positivity to have a go. While mathematicians will enjoy this fresh perspective on the subject, those who have little knowledge of the subject can also enjoy it as Bobby and Susan present topics in a non-intimidating way.
What are some highlights of the podcast so far?
Bobby and Susan loved visiting the house of one of Britain’s most loved maths communicators Johnny Ball. While Johnny was most renowned in the 1970s and 80s for the TV show “Think of a Number”, he is still as enthusiastic as ever. Johnny tested their puzzle skills to the max with a Japanese puzzle box.
Susan met one of the world’s most popular science book writers Simon Singh. However, Simon is very passionate about maths education and ensuring that the top students in state schools are catered for through his ‘Top Top Set’ project. Susan also spoke to inspirational Anne-Marie Imafidon and discussed how she plans on inspiring the next generation of women into STEM.
What exciting plans do you have for the future?
The Maths Appeal mission is to make maths more accessible for everyone, everywhere! They are working on plans for a second podcast series and more puzzle videos on their YouTube channel. And who knows, you might end up seeing the pair on your TV box one day!