Speaking Maths, Speaking Sense: how maths can be taught engagingly  

Date of Publication: 21 January 2019

What power does maths have to communicate?

By Harry Hortyn & Callie Phillipson

Kester Brewin’s convincing article in the Times Educational Supplement makes the case for the power of maths to communicate complex information in a simple way, uniquely amongst the STEM subjects. It chimes with the Oxford Summer Courses team, where it’s crucial we have no more than 8 student per class and that we have the right number of girls and boys in the accommodation blocks to avoid mixing genders. We manage the complexity of doing this across 2,500 students and 30 Oxbridge colleges and elite schools using dashboards that display important information in a simple way.

Kester argues that Maths needs to be made interesting and accessible to win students over – quite right. We’ve been working with “celebrity” tutor Dr Tom Crawford who’s on a mission to popularise maths. When not teaching undergraduates at Oxford University, Tom appears on the BBC and Naked Scientist productions, winning over a new generation of young mathematicians by showing how the earth’s rotation affects the accuracy of shots in sports and why bees build hexagonal honeycombs (clue: it’s not aesthetic).

Our founders and directors, Harry & Rob, both have experience working in the city of London in consulting and finance, where numbers are right at the heart of investments and valuations, informing multi-million pound decisions. It’s something they’ve carried forward to how we run our organisation, including the idea from business guru Gino Wickman that everyone should have a number:

  1. Numbers cut through murky subjective communication between manager and direct reports.
  2. Numbers create accountability.
  3. Accountable people appreciate numbers.
  4. Numbers create clarity and commitment.
  5. Numbers create competition.
  6. Numbers produce results.
  7. Numbers create teamwork.
  8. You solve problems faster.

Even in the most creative pursuits, having a good grasp of figures is essential (think of an artist who needs to calculate the cost of rent for her studio, her materials and the cut a gallery takes when selling her work). So, even if you’re someone who “doesn’t like maths”, there’s still hope: perhaps you just need to find the right tutor who find ways to engage you in the subject.

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