Looking for ideas to challenge your more able learners in maths? In this blog post, Alex Pryce selects four maths-focused “Big Questions” from Oxplore, an initiative developed by the University of Oxford.

Oxplore is an innovative digital outreach portal from the University of Oxford. As the “Home of Big Questions”, it aims to engage 11- to 18-year-olds with debates and ideas that go beyond what is covered in the classroom. Big Questions tackle complex ideas across a wide range of subjects, drawing on the latest research undertaken at Oxford.

In this blog post, I’ve selected four Big Questions which could offer super-curricular enrichment in different areas of mathematical enquiry. Teachers could ask students to use the questions as the starting point for a mini research project, or challenge them to create their own Big Questions to make practical use of mathematical skills. The questions could also be used to introduce more able mathematicians to fields they could study at university.

1. Should footballers earn more than nurses?

Delve into the digits with an exploration of two very different careers. Discover the statistics behind the professions, and debate how difficult these job choices are. We all know that nurses do a fantastic job, but what about footballers who devote their time to charity work? Who should earn more? Get involved in debating labour markets, minimum wage, and the supply and demand process.

Perfect for: budding economists and statisticians.

2. Does truth exist?

What does truth really mean? Can we separate what we believe to be true from scientific fact? Discuss what philosophers and religious figures have to say on the matter, and ponder which came first: mathematics or humans? Did we give meaning to mathematics? Has maths always existed? Learn about strategies to check the validity of statistics, “truth” as defined in legal terms, and the importance of treating data with care.

Perfect for: mathematicians with an interest in philosophy or law.

3. Can money buy happiness?

Take a tour through the history of money, debate how much cash you really need to be happy, and consider the Buddhist perspective on this provocative Big Question. Discover the science behind why shopping makes us feel good, and explore where our human needs fit within Maslow’s famous hierarchy.

Perfect for: those interested in economics, sociology and numbers.

4. Do you make your own luck?

How can we avoid bad luck? Where does luck even come from, and are we in control of it? Where does probability come into luck? Delve into the mathematics behind chance and the law of averages and risk, taking a journey through the maths behind Monopoly on the way!

Perfect for: those interested in probability, decision-making and of course, board-game fans!

Alex Pryce is Oxplore’s Widening Access and Participation Coordinator (Communications and Engagement), leading on marketing and dissemination activities including stakeholder engagement and social media. She has worked in research communications, public engagement and PR for several years through roles in higher education (HE) and the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC). She holds a DPhil in English from the University of Oxford and is a part-time HE tutor. 

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Monday, April 23, 2018