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Yuji Okitani from Tapton School in Sheffield was crowned the 2017 UK winner of Who Wants to Be a Mathematician, going on to win third place in the international Grand Final. This competition, which originated in America, has been brought to the UK by author and mathematician Simon Singh and this year was hosted by mathematician and comedian Matt Parker. You can try some of the questions here.
1. How would you describe your relationship with mathematics?
I think that mathematics is to me, essentially a hobby, something I just enjoy doing. I consider myself lucky that what I enjoy doing happens to be something that is important in and after school, and is offered as an option for further study.
2. What kind of mathematics do you enjoy the most?
Recently, I have been interested in more abstract mathematics such as group theory. I have always been interested in symmetry and so this has been very enjoyable and quite satisfying to learn. In particular, proving seemingly obvious statements from basic facts has been challenging and new for me.
3. How would you describe your experience of school mathematics?
I think I have had very good support doing mathematics at school from teachers who have encouraged me to go further in my learning, especially during secondary school. For example, in around Year 8 (age 12-13) I was mentored by older students who taught me problem solving skills. Throughout the past few years I believe my view on what mathematics is has grown and matured greatly with the support I receive in school.
4. How do you feel mathematics is currently portrayed as a subject in the UK?
Many people seem to think that mathematics is restricted and repetitive, which I imagine is a result of how it is taught from a young age. As far as the school curriculum is concerned, all a student needs to be able to do is answer the problems correctly, so this probably can't be helped. However, I also think it is important to teach students the bigger picture of mathematics, and somehow convey that it isn't just about doing longer sums over and over again.
5. If you could suggest changes to the UK mathematics curriculum, what would you change?
It’s probably unrealistic to change anything in the early stages of learning as it is obviously essential that students learn the basics of mathematics and problem solving. However, later on, I think the curriculum can be restrictive to those who are keen to learn deeper; for example, I found that many theorems (most memorably for me, the central limit theorem) were stated unexplained, which I found rather frustrating. Another example was the derivation of the derivative of sin(x). While a complete proof may be too much to ask, I think that even a brief explanation for each new theorem we learn, as a sneak peek, for those who are interested, would have been nice.
6. What’s your favourite quote about mathematics?
"If there has indeed been such a thing as a golden age of mathematics, it is none of these. It is the present. " Ian Stewart, From Here To Infinity
7. Where do you see yourself in ten, twenty and thirty years’ time?
I plan to study mathematics further, but whatever I end up doing later on, I hope that I will remain as interested in mathematics as I am now and that I will keep learning new things within it, as I imagine ten or twenty years is not nearly enough to run out of things I've yet to learn.