Ofstead: Low-level classroom disruption hits learning

From BBC http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-29342539 :

Low-level, persistent disruptive behaviour in England’s schools is affecting pupils’ learning and damaging their life chances, inspectors warn.

The report says too many school leaders, especially in secondary schools, underestimate the prevalence and negative impact of low-level disruptive behaviour and some fail to identify or tackle it at an early stage.


Source: Poll conducted by YouGov for Ofsted, http://www.ofsted.gov.uk/news/failure-of-leadership-tackling-poor-behaviour-costing-pupils-hour-of-learning-day

This is one of many low-level school issues that affect undergraduate mathematics teaching.  In a mathematics lecture, weaker

students are more prone to “loosing the thread” than in most other courses. Also, students for whom English is not the first language,  in particular,  most from overseas are more sensitive to the signal-to-noise ratio than natives,  and, at a certain level of background noise,  their understanding of the lecture becomes seriously degraded. In my opinion,  this is one of many neglected issues of undergraduate mathematics education. I in my lectures always insist on complete silence in the audience (and usually start my first lecture with  a brief explanation of the concept of signal-to-noise ratio).

Mother’s thyroid level ‘may predict child’s poor maths’

From BBC:

Children born to mothers who have low levels of thyroid hormones during pregnancy tend to do worse in maths in early primary school, a study says.

Dutch researchers tracked 1,196 healthy children from birth to age five, having recorded their mothers’ thyroxine levels at 12 weeks of pregnancy.

They then looked at the children’s test scores for language and arithmetic.

Those born to mothers with low levels of thyroxine were twice as likely to have below average arithmetic scores.

However, the scientists – led by Dr Martijn Finken at the VU University Medical Centre in Amsterdam – said the five-year-olds’ language results were no different.

The maths results were the same even after taking into consideration the child’s family background.

Read the whole article.

Brain works in sleep

Many mathematicians believe that that their brains continue to do mathematics during sleep. A paper

Kouider et al., Inducing Task-Relevant Responses to Speech in the Sleeping Brain, Current Biology (2014), http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2014.08.016

Proves that brain continues in sleep some mental activities of the day.

From the summary of the paper:

using semantic categorization and lexical decision tasks, we studied task-relevant responses triggered by spoken stimuli in the sleeping brain. Awake participants classified words as either animals or objects (experiment 1) or as either words or pseudowords (experiment 2) by pressing a button with their right or left hand, while transitioning toward sleep. The lateralized readiness potential (LRP), an electrophysiological index of response preparation, revealed that task-specific preparatory responses are preserved during sleep. These findings demonstrate that despite the absence of awareness and behavioral responsiveness, sleepers can still extract task relevant information from external stimuli and covertly prepare for appropriate motor responses.

The paper generated a huge response in mass media: BBC, New Scientist, NBC News. It is mentioned in this blog because the study of brain activity  is relevant to mathematics education. A naive question: do our students get enough sleep?

Misha Gavrilovich: Point-set topology as diagram chasing computations

M. Gavrilovich, Point-set topology as diagram chasing computations, The De Morgan Gazette 5 no. 4 (2014), 23-32.


We observe that some natural mathematical definitions are lifting properties relative to simplest counterexamples, namely the definitions of surjectivity and injectivity of maps, as well as of being connected, separation axioms \(T_0\) and \(T_1\) in topology, having dense image, induced (pullback) topology, and every real-valued function being bounded (on a connected domain).

We also offer a couple of brief speculations on cognitive and AI aspects of this observation, particularly that in point-set topology some arguments read as diagram chasing computations with finite preorders.

Citizen Maths MOOC

An experimental MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) Citizen Maths is launched and the first phase of the course is open for registration. It is free and open for everyone; its motto is Powerful Ideas in Action.

The readers of this blog may like to register for the course, because, as the organisers say,

The success of this first phase of Citizen Maths will depend crucially on the feedback that we obtain. We are particularly keen to get feedback from:

  • learners who do the course;
  • those with an interest in the learning and teaching of maths, and in the design of online courses.

There is a link to a feedback form on every page of the Citizen Maths web site, and there will be a similar link on every page of the course when it goes live on or around 12 September.

The first pilot stage will run for four weeks and cover the first “powerful idea”: proportion. An admirable choice (a detailed discussion of the role of proportions in elementary mathematics can be found in this paper by Tony Gardiner).

Matilde Lalin: Attending conferences with small children

[Republished from Terry Tao's Blog -- because of the importance of the issue.-- AB]

[This guest post is authored by Matilde Lalin, an Associate Professor in the Département de mathématiques et de statistique at the Université de Montréal.  I have lightly edited the text, mostly by adding some HTML formatting. -T.]

Mathematicians (and likely other academics!) with small children face some unique challenges when traveling to conferences and workshops. The goal of this post is to reflect on these, and to start a constructive discussion what institutions and event organizers could do to improve the experiences of such participants.

The first necessary step is to recognize that different families have different needs. While it is hard to completely address everybody’s needs, there are some general measures that have a good chance to help most of the people traveling with young children. In this post, I will mostly focus on nursing mothers with infants (\leq 24 months old) because that is my personal experience. Many of the suggestions will apply to other cases such as non-nursing babies, children of single parents, children of couples of mathematicians who are interested in attending the same conference, etc..

The mother of a nursing infant that wishes to attend a conference has three options:

Continue reading

Maryam Mirzakhani, the first woman to win Fields Medal

Maryam Mirzakhani

From Maryam Mirzakhani’s interview to the Clay Institute:

My older brother was the person who got me interested in science in general. He used to tell me what he learned in school. My first memory of mathematics is probably the time that he told me about the problem of adding numbers from 1 to 100. I think he had read in a popular science journal how Gauss solved this problem. The solution was quite fascinating for me. That was the first time I enjoyed a beautiful solution, though I couldn’t find it myself. [...]

I was very lucky in many ways. The war ended when I finished elementary school; I couldn’t have had the great opportunities that I had if I had been born 10 years earlier. I went to a great high school in Tehran – Farzanegan – and had very good teachers.[...]

Our school was close to a street full of bookstores in Tehran. I remember how walking along this crowded street, and going to the bookstores, was so exciting for us. We couldn’t skim through the books like people usually do here in a bookstore, so we would end up buying a lot of random books. Also, our school principal was a strong-willed woman who was willing to go a long way to provide us with the same opportunities as the boys’ school.

Later, I got involved in Math Olympiads that made me think about harder problems. As a teenager, I enjoyed the challenge. But most importantly, I met many inspiring mathematicians and friends at Sharif University. The more I spent time on mathematics, the more excited I became.

Read the full text of the interview at The Guardian website.