More Search
We help universities engage with the public

Communicating Maths

< Back to all case studies

Overview

Who: Third and fourth year Mathematics students in the University of Bath.

What: An assessed module undertaken by 16 students each year, consisting of 4 tasks with the aim to communicate mathematics in an exciting and interactive way to the public.

Why: To enhance the image of mathematics, improving the communication skills of the students and inspiring a younger generation to engage with the subject.

Where: The tasks include; an exhibition at Bath Taps Into Science, a Masterclass for the Royal Institution, a student-led project, a permanent mathematics project in any medium.

When: Commencing in 2002 the project has occurred during the third academic term annually.    

Project description

Communicating Maths is an optional module for third and fourth year students in the department of mathematics, which has been offered since 2002. The students involved undertake a wide range of activities designed to enhance and broaden the public understanding of mathematics, with a particular emphasis on working with local schools. All of the students on the course attend training and undertake four tasks (each count as 25% toward their final assessment) over the course of one semester.

The first of these is to run an exhibition in 'Bath Taps into Science' which is a science fair based in Bath during National Science Week, which attracts over 2000 visitors. The undergraduates make a vital contribution to the event; working in teams of four they run a half day exhibition on a subject of their choice. Topics covered have included probability introduced via the Higher or Lower Games show, Maths Magic, paper aeroplanes and Noughts and Crosses.

The second activity is to run a Saturday morning mathematics master class as part of the Royal Institution mathematics master class programme for school pupils aged around 13.

The third task is drawn from a number of different options. This can vary from students choosing to deliver a lesson in a local primary or secondary school (working with a local teacher), to working with Maths Inspiration, Dr Maths or with the Further Maths Network. Students have even attended the filming of the BBC4 series It's only a theory.

For the final project the students produce a permanent piece of work on a mathematical topic of their choice. Various mediums have been used including posters, web-sites,a YouTube video, newspaper articles and a booklet for Maths In a Box.

The module is assessed through a written portfolio of the activities covered. Marks are given for presentation, explanation of the science/maths involved in each activity, how this was conveyed and very importantly a careful evaluation of how their event went, usually accompanied by graphs and statistics of their audience's reaction to the event. 

"Bath Taps into Science fair is a brilliant event. I first discovered it three years ago and we have made sure we go along as a family every year since. It inspires ordinary people of all ages, with lots of opportunities to have a go and get messy which the children love. The people manning the stands are really enthusiastic and keen to engage the visitors, and it's the only place I can think of where local people of all ages with a common interest in science can connect."  Parent, Janice Richards

"Absolutely superb! I wished I could have done all of it but we didn't have enough time. It made me feel more interested in science." 8 year old

Purpose

  • Provide mathematics students, who are traditionally poor communicators, with the opportunity to demonstrate competency with these skills and to evaluate their ability.
  • Increase student interest in teaching careers.
  • Provide ambassadors of mathematics and the University of Bath within the wider community.

Results and outcomes

What worked well

So far 144 students have taken part in the project, engaging with approximately 30 schools and presenting their work to at least 30,000 members of the public. This success has emerged as a result of the strong support network surrounding the project, in addition to the sheer quality of the work produced by the students.

"Having the NTFS award and strong backing from my VC made all of the difference." Professor Chris Budd

The impacts of this project upon the community have been highly positive, with partner organisations and schools keen to work with the students, who are in high demand for their enthusiasm and creativity in presenting the subjects.

A particular highlight has been the participation of the students in the very prestigious Royal Society Summer Exhibition in 2010. This was the fourth task for a number of students, in which their training in communicating mathematics were be put to the test when they presented to over 35,000 visitors to the exhibition.

The project has been successful in developing mathematics ambassadors within the community, with many participating students progressing into careers involving mathematics communication, including both teaching and with the Royal Institution. 

What didn't work well

The project has been highly successful, with a high level of interest from the students (each year students are turned away as the course is full). Yet, the ongoing challenge faced by this project is securing long term funding.

Resources required

Students demonstrating slimeEach participating student is given careful training to help them gain the skills and experience to undertake Communicating Maths outreach work. These include workshop sessions in running a maths/science exhibition, running a maths master class, evaluating their work and working with the media. They are also CRB checked and are given child protection training.   

Top Tips

  1. Overall “GO FOR IT. Don’t listen to any nonsense that students cant communicate maths .. they are fantastic at it.” Prof. Chris Budd
  2. Get good links with schools and other partners
  3. Have a strong range of activities such as science fairs and master classes
  4. Have a mix of formal training and hands on activities
  5. Award degree credit!!!!!!!
  6. Start DBS checks early
  7. Take student evaluation seriously
  8. Students are great ambassadors - use them

Contact

Name: Professor Chris Budd

Name of organisation: Department of Mathematical Sciences, the University of Bath

Email: mascjb@bath.ac.uk

Telephone: 01225 386241