Conquer your fear of Maths
(I'm living proof that it's possible)

I must not fear.
Fear is the mind killer.
Fear is the little death which brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear!
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.
Frank Herbert - Dune.

Why was the Parthenon built Curved?
click here.

Learn from your mistakes - a tale of integration.
click here.

My Story

         At school, when I was 15, I got a miserable 19% in the maths 'mock' O level examination.  Although I was reasonably good at most subjects, I hated maths and this result was the culmination of years of alienation and failure.  My parents had decided to get me extra lessons, but the head of mathematics in my school told me that he did not want to enter me for the examination, and that I should take the lower level CSE examination instead.  He insinuated in the most humiliating of terms that I did not have the intellectual capability to succeed.  He said he remembered a borderline case who went against their advice, "worked very hard, and finally achieved a grade 6 pass - but I don't think that will happen in your case."  However, I was good at science, and the physics teacher, Neil Small (to whom I shall always be grateful), said that he was expecting me to take Advanced physics in the following year, so there could be nothing fundamentally wrong with my mathematical ability.

            So I duly had the extra lessons, from a lovely Scottish lady who kept telling me "You can do it.".  To my great surprise,  I found I could!  I sailed through the exam with a grade "3" ( the pass grades were 1 to 6 in those days, so a "3" was quite respectable).  I thought of taking history, physics and chemistry to Advanced level, but they wouldn't  let me take history (my first love) - so I took maths instead.  In the end, I studied double maths, physics and chemistry.  I then took a  (third class) B.Sc in Chemistry with Mathematics from King's College London in 1979.  I was a bit ashamed of the class of my degree, but  greatly enjoyed university life. Amongst other things, I was secretary of the students' union and learned many very useful skills and lessons. I decided to teach maths in comprehensive schools, because I was determined that I would not write anyone off as I had been written off.

            I taught for fourteen years, and loved it, but had to take early retirement due to ill health (ulcerative colitis).  I started studying again,  with that wonderful institution, the Open University,  determined to tackle the more difficult mathematics I had run away from twenty years before.  I took a BA (first class hons) at Christmas '99  and completed my M.Math (also first class honours) in Y2k.  I am also in the process of writing a book, part of whose introduction I reprint below.

 Why Bother?

     The Cockcroft Report into the teaching of mathematics stated:  "Mathematics is not only taught because it is useful.  It should be a source of delight and wonder offering pupils intellectual fulfillment and an appreciation of its essential creativity".   Sadly, rather than a source of delight and wonder, far too often the traditional 'mathematics' taught in schools has been a source of misery and psychological pain.    In fact, it is frequently not even a source of mathematics, but rather a meaningless process of regurgitating and manipulating half-understood formulae in contrived and sterile examination questions.

     It is very rare (in education) genuinely to apply any branch of Applied Mathematics.  For example, it is possible, even normal to study probability and statistics without conducting a single experiment or analysing any real raw data.  Consequently, although some students do extremely well in examinations, they have no intuitive understanding of what their knowledge really means.  The same criticisms can equally apply to the study of Mechanics.

    At university, the unit I took in Numerical Analysis enabled me truly to understand much of the 16+ school  syllabus, especially the calculus, for the first time.  Calculus is such a key area that I feel that there has been a tendency for teachers  and traditional syllabi to rush into it - trying to push students into running before they can walk.  In fact, many students of mathematics never learn to walk at all! It seems to me that proficiency in the techniques of the calculus is to many like a mathematical virilty symbol, but  I often wonder how much real understanding there is.   I believe that one should study empirical, finite techniques, before going on to the analytical, infinite and infintessimal.

    I finally became happy with mathematics in my late teens, when, if I didn't understand something, a friend and fellow student encouraged me to work it out for myself from first principles.  (Thank you Bob!)

  When I started teaching, I found my own  failings and failures a great help, in that, from painful experience, I usually understood why students were having a particular difficulty.  I also understood the dreadful feelings of inadequacy and physical ill-being which accompanied any lack of comprehension.  To all who have suffered these symptoms, I would say this:  It is normal not to understand a topic the first time you encounter it.  However, with patience, experiment, and repetition, familiarity can breed content!

Mandelbrot set and magnification.

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