Marcus du Sautoy has done more than most to make mathematics more accessible to young people .
To some students maths is an unpenetrable language that gets lost in translation. But Du Sautoy is full of ideas as to how to make maths both more interesting and more immersive.
Take his story of the North American Cicadas:
It goes as follows- One type of Cicada ‘only appears every seventeen years, another every thirteen, but none at twelve, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen or eighteen years. They’ve evolved prime number life cycles. Why? Because that way they’re less likely to come across predators that also appear periodically in the forest.
‘This story can be brought to life with children through drama, by making numbers from one to one hundred in the classroom and getting children to play the cicadas or the predator. As you go through the hundred years with the cicadas appearing, say, every nine years and the predator every six years, you’ll find they coincide every eighteen years. Each time they meet, the predator gets to choose one of the cicadas to eat. But change the cycle so the predators are appearing every six years and the cicadas appearing every seven years, and they don’t coincide until year forty two.’
Du Sautoy points out that ‘Through this game children are exploring a real scientific example. It’s basic mathematics, nothing beyond the multiplication table, but because it’s a good story it embeds in the memory’
Developing illustrative narratives like this makes the task of teaching maths to young people just that little bit easier.