Monday, 10 November 2008

Maths Teacher: Now suppose the number of sheep is x...

OK, so I predictably decided to look for some mathsy blogs for this week's theme. Maths at university level is very different, and far more interesting (although also a lot harder!) than school maths. We stop talking about x number of sheep, and start talking about x dimensions. Hmm...not the best way to get people interested? Um...well, it has many uses, and a kind of beauty in logic that you just don't get to appreciate at school. OK, OK so I'm a geek. need to point out the bleeding obvious! Not many people, quite understandably, get to experience that style of maths. At school we're all too busy learning the more useful more numerical, less abstract maths. I set myself a mission to find some blogs that would illustrate the type of maths you would find at university without causing the reader to yelp in fear and hide under a table in the foetal position.

First I trawled through many blogs written by people who like maths. Not many of them, funnily enough, actually blogged about it. A few had some good occasional maths-y posts, but that wasn't the point.

Then I went down another route, and found lots of blogs written by people who work in maths-related jobs. Most were aimed at university students or graduates. Dotted about were words such as 'homomorphism', 'group and set theory', 'Markov property' and 'random processes'. Interesting, but unfathomable unless you have done (and understood) a maths degree.

Eventually I found what I was looking for: Division by Zero is a blog written by Dave Richeson, a professor of maths at Dickinson College. He takes the type of maths you would meet outside of school and makes it readable, interesting and easy to follow.

He has some good links in his side-bar, and one I came across which is a more well-known is the Math Less Traveled written by Brent Yorgey. He has aimed his blog at the high-school level, but it is exactly the kind of thing you'd find in your first year of university, with more explanations given to help you think through the work.

In his FAQs he backs me up on the beauty of maths, proving that I am not the only one:

Math? Beautiful? Yeah, right. No fair, that's not a question. But anyway, if you can't understand how anyone could use the words "math" and "beautiful" in the same sentence, then I dare you to stick around a bit and see if you don't change your mind. Math is about much more than figuring out when two trains will meet or calculating compound interest. Mathematics — like the hard sciences, but even more so — seeks to discover and understand the deep, elegant structure built into the very fabric of the universe.....

...I'll leave you to explore - let me know what you think in the comments.

If anyone has anything to add, or wants links to the other maths blogs I found, or a better insight into why I think it's a great subject, give me a shout!

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