Oxford math teacher supports web games to teach kids

LONDON (Reuters Life!) – Internet games can stimulate children’s interest in math, says an Oxford University football professor who plays with the prime number 17 and uses dance to prove theorems.

Oxford University professor Marcus du Sautoy in an undated photo. REUTERS / Manga High / Document

Marcus du Sautoy says that there is “a real crisis” in the teaching of mathematics in English secondary schools, attended by pupils aged 11 to 16, where he says that initially enthusiastic pupils “are losing interest and s ‘bored’.

His answer is a glitzy math website that uses arcade-style games to teach kids about topics like geometry and quadratic equations.

Called Manga High and illustrated in the style of a Japanese comic, the site www.mangahigh.com offers free games to the casual visitor but offers a structured math course for subscribers and is aimed at schools as well as students. individual.

Du Sautoy is a website advisor, created by entrepreneur Toby Rowland, co-founder of King.com, one of the largest gaming companies on the Internet, and son of the late magnate Roland “Tiny” Rowland.

The two first met at Oxford University when Rowland, four years younger than Du Sautoy, was seeking advice on how to conduct a college ball.

“I saw how much my kid plays games on the internet, on his PS3, and when Toby came to me and said, can we use all these skills that people are developing … I? thought it was a pretty interesting challenge, ”said Du Sautoy.

He said the goal had been to make “really hard types of math” games a part of the game, not just mental arithmetic.

A number of schools in London as well as Tennessee in the United States are testing the website, which includes a game called “Save Our Dumb Planet,” where children must enter coordinates on a graph to target a missile at an asteroid. heading towards Earth.

“I think the teachers were very impressed with the depth of math that we were able to incorporate into these games. You can only get a high score if you do the math, ”said Du Sautoy.

He said the game was a good example of the kind of math that real scientists use, in this case to plot the course of a spaceship through the solar system.

“It provides context for the kind of math you’re doing, it’s fun, and you actually learn things by doing it. “

Since last year, Du Sautoy has also been Simonyi Professor for Public Understanding of Science at New College, an Oxford post previously held by Richard Dawkins, author of “The Selfish Gene”.

“I’m someone who does science and I like to talk about it. I don’t mind being called an extensionist, ”he said.

In addition to being the author of academic papers, he has presented a BBC television series on the history of mathematics, writes popular science books on prime numbers and symmetry, and has previously taken the stage for dance proof of the irrationality of the square root of three.

At 44, he’s now past the age when mathematicians are said to have produced their best work, but he said he’s always discovering new structures in the complexity of numbers.

“A lot of times math ideas come when you don’t think about them,” he said, recommending afternoon energy naps to revitalize brains when you’re stuck on a tough problem.

“The subconscious mind while doing math is incredibly important. I woke up with the crystal clear solution in my mind, it’s absolutely amazing.

Du Sautoy relaxes by playing the trumpet or chasing the ball around a football pitch in east London with his Sunday League team Recreativo Hackney.

Even there he found use for his math skills, although the result seems to have more to do with magic than formal logic.

“We were very bad and at the bottom of our championship so I persuaded my team to change kits. We all played with prime numbers the following season, and we came in second in the league and got promoted. “

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About Irene S. Stroupe

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