Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Maths - the Art of Surprise: Resources

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Maths - the Art of Surprise: Resources

Article excerpt

It's not all about shock value - familiarity is important, too.

Surprise, we are told, is Ingredient X, the pedagogical Viagra that we can all add to our lessons to enthral our students and revolutionise learning. It is hard to challenge this received wisdom. Yet can surprise become so pervasive a strategy that it becomes mundane?

The Man Who Knew Infinity by Robert Kanigel tells the story of brilliant Indian mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan. The following describes his attempts at being a tutor: "Ramanujan couldn't stick to the course material. He'd teach the standard method today, and then if his student forgot it, would improvise a wholly new one tomorrow."

The chance to hear Ramanujan improvising on mathematics is an experience many of us would die for, but for his tutees, grappling with the material for the first time, there seemed to be no solid ground, no familiar signposts that were invariant from lesson to lesson. Some students (the more gifted ones) were inspired by Ramanujan; others grew irritated by his improvisatory approach and sacked him.

I wonder if the problem can be "too much surprise". Some of my students find A-level maths hard. …

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