Marriage of maths and magic proves winning formula

Teacher became magician in order to explain to his students how mathematics works

Andrew Jeffrey with students from Lucan East Educate Together: his mathematical magic show was back in Dublin as part of this year’s Maths Week. Photograph: John T Ohle

Andrew Jeffrey with students from Lucan East Educate Together: his mathematical magic show was back in Dublin as part of this year’s Maths Week. Photograph: John T Ohle

 

The deafening screams from the audience weren’t shouting for Rick Allen to toss his drumstick into the audience or for Jimi Hendrix’s plectrum. They came from hundreds of primary school students pleading for a bright yellow dodecahedron to be thrown into the crowd at the end of a mathematical magic show.

Andrew Jeffrey, the owner of the polyhedron and a mathematical magician, first became a star in the middle of teaching a primary school algebra class.

“I did a ‘Think of a number, double it, add six kinda trick’ and they were all kind of ‘Whoah!’” said Jeffrey, who is originally from Brighton. “I thought, ‘That’s quite obvious how that works, isn’t it?’”

The former teacher dabbled in magic tricks in his spare time, but 13 years ago he realised combining his two passions could help his students better understand the fundamental patterns of maths. The result was a mathematical magic show he brought back to Dublin as part of this year’s Maths Week.

Natural curiosity

natural curiosity

“People want to know why and how,” he said. “That’s how maths came into being: we needed a way to explain the universe, so we needed a language, and we needed a set of tools to do that . . . without that creativity maths wouldn’t exist.”

Choruses of “How does he do that?” broke out as Jeffrey procured dice from nowhere. The pupils shouted, “What’s happening?” when their eight-year-old classmate Fiona made red prisms appear in her hand.

These were soon replaced with collective sighs of realisation as the “mathemagician” used number patterns to illustrate the same point.

“The most important thing I will ever learn in maths is to spot a pattern and use it to predict what comes next,” the kids repeated after Jeffrey.

“You see them come in: like, ‘Oh my goodness it’s maths, I’m terrified’ – some of them, not all of them – and then you can see the belief on their faces,” Jeffrey said. “You haven’t changed the universe, but you might have changed one kid’s world.”

The foundations of mathematics and magic weren’t too far removed from each other, he said, and when you can combine the two into a single, fun-filled package, children were more likely to absorb the message.

You can find more details about Maths Week at mathsweek.ie.