Swansea Mathematical Sciences – Unplugged
Mathematics plays a key role in modelling real world processes, it is a universal language for both pure and applied sciences. Methods which are often used in the applications, come from the field of “Mathematical Analysis”, which despite being conceived in the UK (by, among others, Sir Isaac Newton), “is still underrepresented compared to the rest of the world, with a notable shortage of home-grown talent”. This is a fragment from the 2010 EPSRC (Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council) report written in conclusion of the International Review of Mathematical Sciences. This report pointed out how this topic “may suffer if future undergraduate course offerings are directly based on a philosophy of students as course consumers”.
Problem-solving requires a deep knowledge of theoretical results and experience of being challenged with unseen problems; this involves creativity and resilience. Can Higher Education aim at creating independent thinkers who can provide new solutions to the challenges (academic or not) of our time?
Supporting the development of problem-solving skills is a challenge, given the standard structure of pure mathematics books and talks, which present only the last stage of a long process of understanding, often made up of dead ends and uncertainty. This presentation ignores struggles and mistakes, which are a necessary part of an active learning process.
Since Spring 2019 I have been the organiser of an informal series of seminars held at the Computational Foundry, meant to differ from the conventional format, with the intention of exposing the thinking in the development of mathematical ideas behind any project area in Maths Engineering and Science, rather than a polished piece of work. One of the aims is to appeal to all the researchers and postgraduate students who have Mathematics as a significant component in their work (possibly in Engineering, Chemistry, Physics, Biology, Computer Science). The word “unplugged” means “informal”. Electronic devices are welcome if one wants to use them.
Speakers, who can be either academics or postgraduate students, are invited to present within ~35 minutes any research aspect they do not understand, to allow an informal ~25 minutes discussion with the audience trying to contribute to ideas/suggestions.
Speakers may also decide to talk about things they have understood, telling about the path which has led to overcome their struggles: Mathematics is an experimental science, we learn from mistakes; our experiments are the various heuristic approaches we try; the “journey” is often more important than the final solution, a journey driven by our curiosity, to explore new territories and learn.
Exposing the “dark side of research” to an interdisciplinary audience of non-experts could be seen also as a warming up exercise for trying, at a later stage, to bring aspects of our research in the actual lecture theatre.
My session will be a 15 min “reflection on action” on the seminar events we had so far, with the purpose of informing and being advised from the audience, during the 5 min. question time.
Background on the modern challenges when learning and teaching mathematical disciplines. The seminar series: format, what it worked, what can be improved. Implementing ideas into future undergraduate programmes, reflection on key skills.
Learning about the dynamical and experimental aspects of Mathematics, awareness on the role of mistakes, reflection on bringing mathematical research into the lecture theatre, reflection on key skills.