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Dr David Leigh-Lancaster is the Mathematics Manager at the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority, Australia.
1. What’s your earliest memory of doing mathematics?
Not sure I could recall an earliest memory… probably excitement about the never-ending-ness of the natural numbers.
2. How has mathematics education changed in the time you have been involved in it?
I think people have become more open about how they can do mathematics. Mathematics is both an individual mental activity and a shared, collaborative activity that benefits from communication.
Technology has provided a means of exploratory/experimental representation and computation (of various kinds) as well as communication. I find that many colleagues send me mathematics-y stuff they find intriguing or of interest in its application.
In my opinion, maths has always been dynamic, so change is part of its natural territory. Developments in mathematics education may take slightly longer, especially for the various uses of mathematics to gradually permeate everyday stuff in personal, work, societal and recreational contexts.
3. Tell me about a time in your career when something totally flabbergasted you.
At this moment not much surprises me, but the capacity of people to engage in mathematics, especially students, can be surprising. If people have room to move, they will almost always show you something or do something interesting. I am often surprised with how humans can construct and explore things like transfinite numbers – pretty awesome. Humans have a fascination with infinity.
4. Do you practise mathematics differently in company?
I’m not sure. I think maybe every individual does mathematics in a way that suits them, and when working with others they engage in a way that acknowledges where they are coming from. This requires listening; sometimes doing; sometimes just reflecting and making connections. I find that maths blogs provide some insight into how people think about/do mathematics and their opinions on various topics, which are very interesting.
5. Do you think a brilliant maths teacher is born or made?
I am not too keen on the term ‘brilliant maths teacher’. I think a key element of a being a teacher is effectiveness. This can stem from the relationships one has with students. Your learners must play an active part in your teaching. It is a two-way relationship, so if you have the learners on board, you can be an effective teacher; this also requires a solid background in mathematics. I think being a good teacher encompasses other factors, such as playfulness, the ability to listen, being comfortable with mistakes, and caring about the maths and your students. I think as an educator it is also important to be open and honest about the context and application of the material you are teaching. Having a repertoire that covers pragmatic, aesthetic, and just plain old “I don’t know, let’s see!” approaches is helpful.
6. What’s the most fun a mathematician can have?
The same fun as anyone else – insight, connections, applications, ideas, fun in working/sharing with others, especially when it’s the result of a lot of hard work and challenge.
7. Do you have a favourite maths joke?
Find x, why?
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