Dr Maths solves problem of how to make subject fun

It all adds up: Steve Humble takes scalpel to old methods in pursuit of better way to teach

Maths Week at Waterford Institute of Technology Calmast during Bubblz the Bubbly Maths Clown show. Photograph: Patrick Browne

Maths Week at Waterford Institute of Technology Calmast during Bubblz the Bubbly Maths Clown show. Photograph: Patrick Browne


Getting primary pupils interested in maths may seem like a real challenge, but not for Dr Maths. He keeps the students engaged with the subject, and they take away the view that maths isn’t all that bad.

Dr Maths, aka Steve Humble, works in the education department at Newcastle University where he teaches teachers to teach maths.

His mission in life is to help students develop a more positive view of the subject, he says after a Maths Week performance in Waterford on Monday. Today he is in Belfast and then he goes back to Dublin to present his show, Secrets, Lies and Mathematics.

Predicting the future

He delves into mathematical history during his sessions with fifth and sixth class pupils and shows them how maths can be used to apparently predict the future.

“The thing I try to do is show the applications of maths and how useful it is to society in general,” he says. “I also try to demystify things that they see in class.”

He believes in letting pupils experiment with maths. He wrote more than 200 newspaper articles over an eight-year period and found that people regularly got in touch after being presented with a puzzle.

“People love puzzles and like to try to work things out. If we taught kids more in that experimental mode, it would engage more people,” he says.

Dr Maths has made some of his teaching materials available on the Maths Week website. For details, visit mathsweek.ie and find the answers and explanation to the puzzles in the panel below.

Share and share alike

Four children were given a packet of sweets. Julian said: “I am the eldest, I should have half.”

Dick said: “If that’s the case, I am next so I should have a third.”

George demanded a quarter and said that Anne should get a fifth. Anne said: “If that’s the case, then we’ll need another 15 sweets.”

How many sweets were there in the packet?

Testing attitudes

Out of a sample of people surveyed, 88 per cent said they were opposed to the water charges, 38 per cent said they wouldn’t vote for Fine Gael or Labour, 82 per cent said they were from outside Dublin and 73 per cent said they were right-handed.

From this we can’t say for sure how many right-handed people who are from outside Dublin would vote for a government party and oppose the water charges.

But we can determine the maximum and minimum numbers.

What are they?

Answers at mathsweek.ie