Uncategorized

NMSS 2021 concludes

The 53rd ANU-AAMT National Mathematics Summer School has now concluded. Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the 2021 School was held virtually. Thanks to all the students and staff for making the first online NMSS as successful as any other!

The 2021 NMSS staff and invited speakers were:

  • Director:
    • Dr Norm Do
  • Deputy Directors:
    • A/Prof. Leanne Rylands
    • Sean Gardiner
  • Academic Support Officer:
    • Emily Thompson
  • Welfare Officer:
    • Michael Smith
  • Manager:
    • Damien Hoban
  • Lecturers:
    • Dr Norm Do
    • Dr Merryn Horrocks
    • A/Prof. Jonathan Kress
    • A/Prof. Leanne Rylands
  • Tutors:
    • Ell Baldwin
    • Mike Bammann
    • Yudhi Bunjamin
    • Tom Clement
    • Sean Gardiner
    • Rachel Hauenschild
    • Dr Mel Lee
    • Isabel Longbottom
    • Dr Brendan McMonigal
    • Ellena Moskovsky
    • Lachy Potter
    • Dr Olivia Smith
    • Edwin Spark
    • Andy Tran
  • Academy Lecturer:
    • Prof. Robyn Owens
  • Alumni Lecturer:
    • Dr Alex Heath

The 54th NMSS will be held on 9-22 January 2022.

Uncategorized

NMSS 2020: Student Reflections

Alice Hughes

When I told my family that I was applying for a two-week maths camp, they gave me a look and then continued on with their day. When I told my maths teacher, he laughed and called me a nerd. But that didn’t stop me applying, nor did it diminish the excitement that came with my offered place at the camp. I was keen for the opportunity to experience more than just everyday school mathematics and NMSS did not disappoint.

Skipping forward about a month after I accepted a position, the bushfires had arrived in the ACT, and it was decided for the safety of all involved in the camp that NMSS 2020 would be cancelled. Needless to say, I was disappointed but the prospects of the offered week in Melbourne kept my hopes alive. Thanks to the relentless work of our dedicated director, the flights for every student were booked within the week, and we were off.

What followed was easily the best week of my life. I knew no one else going, and as you can guess, I was quite nervous. But I needn’t have feared. Upon my arrival I was greeted by the friendly tutors who tirelessly urged us to think deeply of simple things, the experienced students who went out of their way to welcome us all and ease our nerves, our welfare officers who proceeded to keep us safe throughout the week, our lecturers who never ceased to broaden our perspective of mathematics and our directors who brought the whole event together. I was brought into a family of people who strived to make themselves better and who incorporated me into their group without a blink. I learnt not only new concepts but new ways of thinking, of interacting with people and saw a new side to a subject that I thought I new inside and out. NMSS is an experience that I will never forget and I am extremely grateful for the opportunity I was offered.

Raymond Zhao

People always say that home isn’t a place, but the people that live there. I think the same applies for my experience at NMSS. While I enjoyed living on campus and was amazed by different fields and aspects of maths that does not get covered at school, it was the people that I met and the wonderful community bonded by a love for mathematics that I experienced, that I think will stick with me forever.

The maths that we did at camp was inherently different from anything that I had experienced before, it was messy, took a lot of experimentations, and you were not always guaranteed a neat solution (or a solution at all!). I valued this experience, as it really provided insight into what mathematics is like. It is, after all, not about what the solution is, but the exploration, discovery and learning process. We covered number theory and algorithms during the camp. Number theory takes you back to the basics of numbers, one example was when we constructed the set of integers from only axioms, it was this sort of focus on fundamentals that made me understand maths more.

But it really was the people and community there that really made an impact on me. I had the valuable opportunity to meet so many like-minded people. It was always fun talking to people my age about the future, our experiences and about problems in question sets. Everyone always has unique perspectives and approaches to problems that often inspired me in some way.  I’m also very grateful for all the tutors and lectures and speakers, talking to them made me realise all the possible paths I could take with mathematics in the future.

From the daily jokes during announcements, tutorials, “assassins”, and board games, NMSS was such a supportive and inclusive community that made me feel at home from the first night. I really loved this community that is brought together by our love for maths, everyone was eager to engage in more intellectual conversations, or just messing around. I feel like it was the perfect balance of learning and fun. NMSS gave me a valuable opportunity to be able to experience what being in a mathematical community feels like. And I am simply in love with it and had an unbelievable week.

Overall, NMSS was such a great experience that truly showed me what being a mathematician is like. It introduced me to so many interesting aspects of mathematics, allowed me to form so many valuable friendships and was overall an unforgettable experience.

Uncategorized

Learning to teach (and teaching to learn)

This article is from the 2020 edition of the NMSS Newsletter. To receive the newsletter in your email, please contact admin@nmss.edu.au with your name and preferred email address. 

A senior lecturer in mathematics at Monash University, Dr Norman Do was a NMSS student in 1997 and 1998. He has been a NMSS staff member since 2001, including taking the first week of number theory lectures on five occasions.

Well, what a year it’s been so far! As an academic mathematician whose lectures underwent a forced migration online and as a parent who has necessarily become more involved in my children’s day-to-day learning, I have found myself thinking deeply about the not-so-simple thing we call teaching. Although I was asked to share here some of my thoughts on maths education, I must admit that I am certainly no authority on the matter, but just a humble practitioner striving to do better. So I will merely pass on the wisdom of others in the hope that someone apart from myself might find it interesting.

The educational literature, blogosphere and Twitterverse are awash with well-intentioned dictums, of wildly varying degrees of utility. However, on the odd occasion, one comes across an aphorism beyond whose pithy facade lies a kernel of truth that can help to catalyse constructive change. The following are three examples that have particularly resonated with me during this disrupted year of teaching and learning.

I don’t just teach maths, I teach people

All too often, mathematics instruction is delivered in a manner that is cold, heartless, austere and mechanical. Worse still, it can be delivered without regard for the people on the receiving end. I know that I have certainly been in the audience while a lecturer reads out dense abstract mathematics from slides while I scramble to take notes. Such experiences made me wonder: could I have learnt this without the lecturer? Would the lecturer have taught this without the students?!

I firmly believe that good teaching should appeal to our natural human desires: to make meaning of the world around us, to impose order on it, to stir the curiosity within ourselves, to become explorers of ideas, and simply to play.

Furthermore, a student-centred approach to teaching maths needs to take into account just how much each individual brings along to their learning. This includes their previous experiences with the subject in and out of the classroom, their intuition, their goals and ambitions, and their personal circumstances. It might seem obvious to say that not everyone has shared my mathematical upbringing and experiences, that not everyone seeks to become a professional mathematician like myself. That diversity is indeed a good thing and my teaching needs to reflect that.

Motivation doesn’t lead to achievement, achievement leads to motivation

Few people would argue with the fact that motivation and achievement are intrinsically linked, and perhaps more so in the study of mathematics than in most other disciplines. However, there is a strong tendency to err on the side of believing that it is motivation that leads to achievement, when there is mounting evidence to suggest that the direction of causation is stronger in the opposite direction than we think. Thus, to create the virtuous cycle in which motivation begets achievement and vice versa, we should focus on the latter, rather than the former.

To a certain extent, it is good practice to motivate students to learn, whether by proverbial carrot or proverbial stick. However, this should take second place to teaching students well, scaffolding their learning, giving them opportunities to achieve, and celebrating those initial learning victories. Intrinsic motivation then follows.

Maths educators often dread when a student asks the question: why is this useful? This of course deserves a response, but I claim that there is no need to pre-empt the question and no need to preface each lesson with talk of applications. That discussion should enter naturally and, at least from my own experience, doesn’t necessarily achieve the desired goal of motivating students to learn. Most commonly, the student asking why this is useful is one who hasn’t fully grasped what is being taught, and that is the issue that really needs to be addressed.

On this note (excuse the pun!), if all you have is the middle C key on a piano, then there’s very little of value that you can do. However, that key in the context of the whole keyboard allows you to replicate musical masterpieces and to compose hitherto unheard melodies. So a short and honest answer to why solving the equation 2x^2-3x+1=0 is useful is that, in isolation and without context, it probably isn’t!

Don’t cover the material, uncover the material

Mathematics education, particularly at the secondary and tertiary levels, is overly concerned with the delivery of content and the assessment of skills. The metronomic pace of a curriculum can be constraining, without allowing students the latitude to flex their creative muscles, to develop the resilience required to flourish in productive struggle. It is also unforgiving to students who don’t keep up, when it is slow and deep thinking that we should value and encourage.

From my experience, the exemplar of a teaching and learning environment that encompasses this philosophy is the National Mathematics Summer School. As with some of you reading this, I had the opportunity to sit through Terry Gagen’s amazing number theory lectures, as a NMSS student in a previous millennium. At the time, I knew that what we were learning and how we were learning were markedly different from any previous experience. Yet it took several more iterations of seeing those lectures from the perspective of a tutor to truly appreciate what that difference was.

You see, Terry didn’t explicitly tell me what Euclid’s algorithm is and he never explicitly proved to me why it worked. He simply showed it to me and that in itself was an invitation to try it out for myself, to wonder why it worked in his example as well as mine, to go down the rabbit hole, so to speak. Then Terry showed me Euclid’s algorithm not just for two whole numbers, but for two polynomials, and my mind was blown.

There was no imperative to cover a certain amount of material in the limited timeframe of that wondrous fortnight. Rather, Terry’s lectures enabled us and invited us to become mathematical explorers. Students come to the NMSS at differing stages of their mathematical progression, and they also leave the same way, but hopefully enriched by the experience. They don’t all walk away remembering which prime numbers can be expressed as the sum of two perfect squares and they don’t need to. (With the help of the internet, you could find out in less than a minute!) NMSS students have instead been given the opportunity to discover mathematics for themselves, to take ownership of those discoveries, and to experience what mathematics and teaching and learning can really be.

Dr Norman Do, NMSS Director
Uncategorized

NMSS 2020 concludes

The 52nd ANU-AAMT National Mathematics Summer School concluded on Saturday 18 January 2020. Due to exceptional emergency circumstances in Canberra at the time, the School was held for just eight days this year, at Melbourne University. Thanks to all the students and staff for contributing towards an unusual but invigorating week of distilled mathematics!

The 2020 NMSS staff and invited speakers were:

  • Director:
    • Prof. Ben Burton
  • Deputy Directors:
    • A/Prof. Leanne Rylands
    • Sean Gardiner
  • Welfare Officers:
    • Michael Smith
    • Emily Thompson
  • Lecturers:
    • Dr Norm Do
    • Sean Gardiner
    • Dr Merryn Horrocks
    • A/Prof. Jonathan Kress
  • Tutors:
    • Ell Baldwin
    • Yudhi Bunjamin
    • Tom Clement
    • Sean Gardiner
    • Isabel Longbottom
    • Dr Brendan McMonigal
    • Ellena Moskovsky
    • Dr Olivia Smith
    • Andy Tran
  • Academy Lecturer:
    • Prof. Kerry Landman
  • Alumni Lecturer:
    • Prof. Jean Yang

The 53rd NMSS will be held on 10-23 January 2021.

Uncategorized

The Poladian Project: Celebrating the life of Leon Poladian

The Poladian Project is an event that has been put together by organisers at The University of Sydney to celebrate the late Leon Poladian. Leon was the previous Director of the National Mathematics Summer School from 2013-2017, and a long-time friend of the School having attended twice as a student and 26 times as a staff member.

Leon’s research and interests spanned a vast range of areas and disciplines, and the Poladian Project is focussed on educating people in and celebrating interdisciplinary thinking.

The completely free event consists of presentations and workshops between 14-21 February which are intended for a general audience. These include workshops covering Origami, The Science of Food, and Astronomy through Movement and Music, and seminars about topics spanning how bees make drones safer, brain atlases, and making robots out of DNA. The keynote lecture by guest speaker Dr Robert Lang, titled “Flapping Birds to Space Telescopes: The Modern World of Origami”, will be given at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday 20 February at the University of Sydney.

All information can be found at the website: https://thepoladianproject.com/

A document highlighting those events most suitable for high-school students can be read by clicking here.

Uncategorized

NMSS 2019 concludes

The 51st ANU-AAMT National Mathematics Summer School concluded on Saturday 19 January 2019. Thanks to all the students and staff for contributing towards such an enjoyable and satisfying two weeks.

The 2019 NMSS staff and invited speakers were:

  • Director:
    • Prof. Ben Burton
  • Deputy Directors:
    • A/Prof. Leanne Rylands
    • Sean Gardiner
  • Welfare Officers:
    • Michael Smith
    • Zaiga Thomann
  • Lecturers:
    • Prof. Ben Burton
    • Dr Norm Do
    • Sean Gardiner
    • A/Prof. David Harvey
    • Dr Merryn Horrocks
    • A/Prof. Jonathan Kress
    • A/Prof. Leanne Rylands
    • Dr Kate Turner
  • Tutors:
    • Tom Clement
    • Sean Gardiner
    • Ellena Moskovsky
    • Dr Olivia Smith
    • Edwin Spark
    • Bryce Stansfield
    • Emily Thompson
    • Finn Thompson
    • Dr Yinan Zhang
  • Academy Lecturer:
    • Prof. Ole Warnaar
  • Alumni Lecturers:
    • Dr Karen Dancer
    • Dr Lara Ford
  • Travel Coordinator:
    • Garry Webb

The 52nd NMSS will be held on 5-18 January 2020.

Uncategorized

Professor Ole Warnaar is the 2019 NMSS Blakers Lecturer

NMSS is excited to announce that the 2019 Blakers Lecturer will be Professor Ole Warnaar. The Blakers Lecture is delivered by a member of the Australian Academy of Science exclusively to students and staff of the School, held at the Shine Dome. The lecture is named after the founder of the National Mathematics Summer School, Professor A.L. (Larry) Blakers AM.

Ole Warnaar is a pure mathematician from the School of Mathematics and Physics at The University of Queensland. He grew up in The Netherlands, where he completed his undergraduate degree at the University of Leiden and Doctorate at the University of Amsterdam.

In 1993 he moved to Australia for a postdoctoral position at The University of Melbourne. After a brief stint back in The Netherlands, he returned to Australia on a more permanent basis in 2000, and has been Professor and Chair in Pure Mathematics at The University of Queensland since 2008. Ole is a past Vice President of the Australian Mathematical Society and past deputy chair of the National Committee for Mathematical Sciences. In 2008 he was elected as Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science for his contributions to algebraic combinatorics, integrable systems and number theory.

Since 2006 Ole writes the competition questions for years 7 and 8 of the University of Melbourne School Mathematics Competition, poking mathematical fun at politicians, celebrities and popular culture.

 

Uncategorized

Celebrating Leon Poladian

Leon Poladian

21 March 1964 – 13 February 2018

This year, on February 13th we lost Leon to brain cancer. Leon had a long history with NMSS. Leon attended NMSS in 1981 as a student when he was 16, at the end of his year 11 at Fort Street Boys High School and again in 1982. No one will be surprised to hear that he was an outstanding student. Ten years later, Leon was back at NMSS, this time as staff. He had completed a BSc with first class honours in physics and a PhD in theoretical physics at the University of Sydney. He was an incredibly talented mathematician and physicist. Leon was a part of NMSS every year from 1992, except for this year. In all, for 28 of his Januarys (almost 52%) he was in Canberra for NMSS.

As a NMSS staff member, Leon was a tutor several times and 22 times he lectured week-long courses that he had developed, often about chaos theory. Leon also designed and taught courses on game theory and geometric construction. In 2001 and 2002 he lectured one week of the number theory course.

At NMSS Leon twice gave lectures on his career, which included his work on optical fibres and iridescence in butterflies. From 2013-2017 Leon was director. He had planned to be the director of NMSS until long after he retired from university. Leon clearly loved mathematics, he loved sharing it with others, including both students and staff at NMSS. Leon’s teaching was inspiring.

Leon cared about education beyond NMSS. He published at least 16 papers about tertiary mathematics education including “Thinking deeply of simple things: 45 years of the National Mathematics Summer School”, and was involved in several funded projects.

Leon was hugely positive, enthusiastic and energetic about many things, including all aspects of NMSS. Some of his non-mathematical interests appeared in his NMSS biography: “Leon Poladian … has a special interest in foreign languages and linguistics and can be misunderstood in several languages. He is addicted to euro-style board games, created his first iPad game recently and hopes to design a game that will win Spiel des Jahres.”

Each year for the last few years Leon invited Nobel Prize winner and ANU vice chancellor Professor Brian Schmidt to be the NMSS academy of science lecturer. Professor Schmidt finally said yes for January 2018. It would have been wonderful to have Leon there for our first Nobel Prize winning speaker and for the 50 th NMSS, but it was not possible. In fact, there was concern that Leon might not be able to attend NMSS in 2017 as in the weeks up to NMSS he was undergoing chemotherapy and radiotherapy. He insisted that he would be able to attend and run NMSS and said that any staff member could have something at the last minute that could stop them attending, so why worry just about him? In the few days before NMSS another staff member was forced to drop out, but Leon made it to Canberra, just as he said he would.

In July last year Leon received a AAMT Distinguished Service Award, the first such award since 2008. The citation noted that Leon “has been an important part of the fabric of NMSS for half of its life”. Actually, at that time Leon had attended just over 57% (28 of 49) NMSSs.

Leon loved games of all kinds. As with mathematics, his enthusiasm was particularly contagious at NMSS. “The staff often stayed up into the early hours with some of the most complex board games we had ever encountered – I still don’t understand what the point of the Battle Star Galactica game was, but it was always filled with fun and laughter” (a tutor). Leon developed a game app; he intended to sell it and use the income for NMSS. The aim was to get a martian to its spaceship.

In April 2017, NMSS staff presented Leon with a board-game-inspired plaque. It listed some of his attributes: chaotic (referring to his lectures on chaos), creative, compassionate, inspirational, mentor, fun, devoted and educator. The plaque read “A simple thank you for a deeply thoughtful director”.

Leon worked on NMSS 2018 for much of 2017 with the same care and enthusiasm as usual, knowing that someone else would take over and knowing that he might not get there in 2018. Leon’s work with, and contribution to, NMSS over so many years will not be forgotten.

Leanne Rylands
L.Rylands@westernsydney.edu.au
Western Sydney University

If you have pictures of Leon at NMSS that you would like to share in the above slideshow, please feel free to forward them on to us. 

Uncategorized

NMSS 2018 concludes

The 50th ANU-AAMT National Mathematics Summer School has officially concluded! Thanks to all the students and staff for contributing towards such an enjoyable and satisfying two weeks.

The 2018 NMSS staff and invited speakers were:

  • Director:
    • A/Prof. Terry Gagen
  • Deputy Director:
    • A/Prof. Leanne Rylands
  • Welfare Officers:
    • Mr Mike Bammann
    • Ms Thanom Shaw
  • Health and Safety Officer:
    • Mr Michael Smith
  • Lecturers:
    • Dr Zoltán Bácskai
    • Prof. Ben Burton
    • Dr Norm Do
    • A/Prof. Terry Gagen
    • Dr Merryn Horrocks
    • A/Prof. Jonathan Kress
    • A/Prof. Leanne Rylands
  • Tutors:
    • Mr Dan Altman
    • Mr Mike Bammann
    • Mr Tom Clement
    • Mr Sean Gardiner
    • Dr David Gruenewald
    • Mr Max Jolley
    • Ms Thanom Shaw
    • Dr Olivia Smith
    • Mr Edwin Spark
    • Ms Zaiga Thomann
  • Academy Lecturer:
    • Prof. Brian Schmidt
  • Alumni Lecturer:
    • Dr Julian Gibbons
  • Travel Coordinator:
    • Mr Garry Webb

The 51st NMSS will be held on 6-19 January 2019.

Uncategorized

Nobel Laureate Professor Brian Schmidt announced as 2018 Academy Lecturer

NMSS is excited to announce that the 2018 Academy Lecturer will be Professor Brian Schmidt AC, FRS, FAA. Professor Schmidt has many accolades to his name, including being the recipient of the Pawsey Medal, the Shaw Prize, the Dirac Medal, and the Niels Bohr Institute Medal of Honour – all esteemed awards in the field of Physics, awarded in recognition of his extensive work in Cosmology. He is perhaps best-known locally as being the only Australian-citizen Physics Nobel Prize winner, which he received in 2011 for his joint work with Adam Riess and in tandem with Saul Perlmutter in discovering that the universe is expanding at an accelerating pace.

The NMSS Academy Lecture is delivered by a member of the Australian Academy of Science exclusively to students and staff of the School, held at the Shine Dome. Professor Schmidt was elected a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science in 2008, and is the current Vice-chancellor of the Australian National University.