Ouhao Chen is currently a lecturer with the Department of Mathematics Education, Loughborough University. His research aims to design effective instructions for teaching and learning mathematics from the Cognitive Load Theory perspective. He is working on three research projects on designing learning materials for early years and primary mathematics learning, which are funded by the Leverhulme Trust, the Education Endowment Foundation and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).
1. What’s your earliest memory of doing mathematics?
When I was very young, my parents gave me a lot of training for maths, such as finger counting. Also, my parents gave me some very simple objects, such as two stones and asked me, “Which stone is bigger and which stone is smaller?”
2. How has mathematics education changed in the time you have been involved in it?
It has changed a lot. When I was in school, the method for maths education I was given was quite serious, quite theoretical, such as focusing on how to solve problems and how to give solutions by steps. But nowadays I feel maths education is more practical, so we need to be flexible on conceptual understanding and how we try to apply the concepts to solve some real-life maths problems.
3. Tell me about a time in your career when something totally flabbergasted you.
I was telling my friends about my studies in maths for an undergraduate degree. They were quite surprised, and said to me, “You are totally isolated from us.” Why was this? Because they were thinking about mathematics and how each individual mathematical theory can be quite independent from each other: individual theories can be seen as isolated areas to be developed independently of each other. I was quite surprised to hear that they were thinking maths theories are quite individual and separate from each other. But nowadays I feel we are talking about the big ideas in mathematics and trying to find some ideas to connect different areas of mathematics.
4. Do you practise mathematics differently in company?
Yes, I think so, because when I'm in school, sometimes the teachers ask you to practise quite a lot of textbook-based problem solving. But once you start working, particularly if you go to the supermarket and on shopping trips or if you are working in the university, I think you need to consider a lot of different factors. Sometimes if I practise mathematics in university or in life in general, it is more applied or practical, rather than just a very narrow read within a book or textbook.
5. Do you think a brilliant maths teacher is born or made?
I think they are made, because I believe there is a very famous saying that says success is a result of your hard work, but when a baby is born, genes may play a part. I believe an excellent mathematician should be made, but you will be more likely to become a brilliant maths teacher if you have very good genes from your parents regarding mathematics. Also, the learning environment can help promote your talent for mathematics.
6. What’s the most fun a mathematician can have?
I think probably when you need to pay a bill; i.e., when I am in the restaurant waiting to pay the bill with my friends, they always ask me to calculate how much they need to pay – and that's quite fun! They believe I, as a mathematician, am better placed to make calculations as I am more likely to be quicker dealing with numbers.
7. Do you have a favourite maths joke?
I heard this one from my students: they call us “Transformers” because every time we go to solve the equation on the board, we always say, “We are going to transform this equation,” and the students then call out, “We are Transformers!”
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