If you’re active on the Twittersphere you might know Ed Southall as @solvemymaths. Or perhaps you’re a subscriber to his popular maths blog solvemymaths.com filled with awe-inspiring maths animations and teaching resources! Whether it is his blog or his exciting new textbook everyone is raving about, Ed Southall has always been a keen advocate of understanding how mathematics works. Between his busy schedule as a teacher trainer at Huddersfield University and teaching maths at his local comprehensive school, we managed to catch Ed for a quick Q&A to learn about the man behind the book!
Q: What sparked your interest in maths?
I always liked patterns, particularly visual ones. I wasn’t keen on maths at school, but I enjoyed computing as a teenager, in part because of the beauty of being able to constantly refine solutions to problems, to maximise their efficiency and make them ever more impressive. I draw a lot of parallels between that process and solving problems in maths. There are brute force approaches, and clever approaches, and then there are occasionally ingenious approaches (usually shown to me by other people I might add). I only really started to enjoy maths as a discrete subject when I took the time to understand it more deeply – to move away from memorising algorithms and towards understanding why they work. It was like a whole world was opened up, and the fear of wrong answers was replaced by the curiosity of conjectures.
Q: What one piece of advice would you give a trainee or new teacher planning to teach their first maths lesson?
Don’t get consumed with finding ideas to make the lesson ‘exciting’. Good questions that make you think are usually enough to draw people in.
Q: Maths is fun. True or false? (and why)
Maths can be fun, but sadly a large number of people dislike it – which more often than not stems from not understanding it. A lot of the things that make maths interesting are compromised at school to make way for time to cover content. We often teach the tools but not the things you can build and deconstruct with them.
Q: If you had to teach the concept of ‘time’ to an alien – how would you go about it?
I have no idea. It’s a very abstract concept, so I’d probably use concrete examples of comparative measuring of states. For example, if I drink a glass of water, it was full of water, then I drank it, then it was empty. Maybe map that onto a flow diagram and turn it into a time line.
Q: What are your thoughts on Maths education in the UK in comparison to other countries?
I have many! I think the current climate of competing against other nations is problematic, but there are some things that are undeniably hurting our system. Many people are proud that they ‘hate’ maths and have never needed to use it in their lives. Telling this to children is harmful, as it normalises disengagement and low expectations. I think we have a wealth of outstanding talent in the profession, but the sharing of ideas and knowledge is often restricted by the structure of the system. How often do teachers get the chance to just talk about teaching?