This academic year has been a busy one for the Mathematics Department. As well as guiding pupils and students through their core curricular development, emphasis has been placed on extending their understanding of how mathematics and mathematical reasoning are important life skills. It is valuable for the pupils to take in opportunities to see mathematics discussed and explored in public forums, getting a taste of university lecturing whilst and appreciating further applications of the discipline.
As part of this mathematical enrichment, groups of our most enthusiastic students attended “Maths in Action” at the Institute of Education in London. This event offers university-style lectures illustrating the uses of mathematics in nature, science technology and industry. Following the successful visits by John Lyon boys over the previous couple of years, the conference has become an integral part of the mathematics programme, allowing the more able Mathematicians to engage in thinking about the subject in a way that it is more applicable to everyday life.
These events are compered by Dr Mark Hogarth of the University of Cambridge, who presented the students with philosophical and mathematical brainteasers throughout the day. Puzzles such as “when is the best time during the week to buy a lottery ticket?” kept everyone thinking during quiet moments and showed how mathematical thinking extends beyond the methods taught in the curriculum. On the first of these study days, Year 10 pupils were inspired by, amongst others, David Acheson demonstrating the mathematics behind the electric guitar, Simon Singh explaining the uses of mathematics in the media and a final speech in which Matt Parker examined the influence that maths had on everyday life, finding such examples in The Simpsons and Futurama, and explained the power of maths in understanding events in our time.
Matt Parker was also one of the lecturers for the second Study Day, attended by the Year 12 Further Mathematicians. David Singleton, from Google UK, explained how the search engine ranks its page listings. Professor Matt Keeling, an epidemiologist from the University of Warwick demonstrated how statistical and temporal modelling helps to predict and control the spread of diseases, using unsuspecting members of the audience as examples. The students were most impressed however, by Alex Bellos’ exploration of the very nature of number, and how we have come to understand the numbers we use.
The Year 12 Further Mathematicians were fortunate to have the opportunity to attend a mathematics master class at The University of Oxford. Dr. Richard Earl led the students through an exploration of cryptography, beginning with the most basic mathematics that lies behind ISBN codes. The students learned about RSA encryption, Huffman codes, and breaking encryptions. Most importantly, they learned about the public key encryptions which lie deep within the working of the internet. Every time you enter your personal details into a website, you are running the risk of those details going astray! The way websites securely manage your data is through making it possible for every computer in the world to use the encryption process of a given website, but for the decryption to be possible by only the intended recipient. The students learned all about the modular arithmetic that makes such an arrangement possible, whilst reminding themselves of the extent to which our use of number depends on the primes and the rapid computing power we now have available. The master class was not just a lecture: the students were involved in the calculations which lie behind this, working on mathematics normally done by undergraduates.
Mathematical competitions also play an important part in the School year. The United Kingdom Mathematics Challenge was entered by nearly all our pupils, and doubles up as the House Maths competition. The boys have cause to be proud of some excellent achievements in this challenge. This event takes place at different times of the year for the three levels (Junior, Intermediate and Senior), with results as follows:
In the Senior Challenge our boys collected of 9 Bronze and 3 Silver awards. Stephen Bennett was awarded Best in School. The Intermediate challenge saw our boys rack up a total of 30 Bronze, 19 Silver and 2 Gold awards. Jazz Best (Year 11) was Best in School and Kyle Ragbir (Year 9) and Jazz qualified for the “International Kangaroo” follow up rounds. The Juniors proved equally formidable racking up 16 Bronze, 10 Silver and 9 Golds. Best in school was Rhys Benjamin who only just missed out on a place in the Junior Olympiad.
On the 11th July the whole of Year 7 embarked on the annual Maths Fun Day. A whole day off timetable dedicated to maths evoked different feelings in many of the boys; however the carousel of nine different activities exceeded the expectations of the majority. Each session used some sort of maths skills from logic and problem solving, such as breaking codes using a cipher wheel and building bridges from only straws and string, and exercising their own arithmetic skills in the 100 club competition. Boys also challenged each other to build the most robust icosahedra and used computer simulations to build virtual structures based on mathematical principles. Boys were also given the opportunity to imagine themselves in a two dimensional world as they watched the film “Flatland” and cross into different cultures as they learnt numbers in different languages. A fun and maths-filled day was had by all!
These excellent achievements by our pupils and students indicate the Mathematics Department going from strength to strength. Exam results matter hugely, but genuine intellectual development matters more. Every year, we seek to build on the solid core of mathematical understanding and furnish the boys with the experience and capability to see that their studies do make a difference to how they can understand the world.