# D'oh! We have to get over our fear of maths

I have lectured to secondary school students at least 200 times over the past decade, and I have covered meaty topics such Fermat's last theorem, statistics, probability, cosmology, cryptography and evidence-based medicine. But my favourite topic at the moment is *The Simpsons .*

*Believe it or not, The Simpsons contains a mountain of maths, from pi to perfect numbers, Pythagorean theorem and infinity. So I use the world's most successful television show to explore all sorts of mathematical ideas.*

*The reason why Homer Simpson makes references to numbers and why Lisa Simpson makes jokes about theorems is that many writers of The Simpsons have backgrounds in maths, having studied the subject at universities such as Harvard and Yale.*

*But you may not have spotted the mathematical themes in The Simpsons because they are often embedded as "freeze-frame" gags, designed to appear briefly to avoid getting in the way of the plot or scaring away non-nerds. For example, in the episode MoneyBart, Lisa is depicted with a book that has an equation on its spine. It is Euler's identity, arguably the most elegant equation in the history of maths. Similarly, in Treehouse of Horror VI, the equation P=NP flies behind Homer; a reference to an unsolved problem so notorious that the Clay Mathematics Institute in the US is offering a $1 million (pound;610,000) reward for whoever can tackle it successfully.*

*My book The Simpsons and Their Mathematical Secrets documents dozens of examples of maths in The Simpsons and similar references in its sister show Futurama, which was penned by some of the same mathematically gifted writers.*

*Although there are straightforward sums in The Simpsons and Futurama, I tend to focus on the more sophisticated ideas when I visit schools, perhaps because my main concern is with stretching more able students. It is obviously important to interest, inspire and educate all students across the range of abilities. But too much focus has been placed on helping students to overcome a fear of numbers, leaving the most able as an afterthought.*

*This may seem harsh, but it is hard for an unbiased outsider to come to any other conclusion. My initial concerns arose after visiting schools and talking to teachers. Such evidence could be dismissed as merely anecdotal. However, a more concrete survey of the problem was presented in a report, Educating the Highly Able, authored by Alan Smithers and Pamela Robinson at the University of Buckingham and commissioned by social mobility charity the Sutton Trust.*

*Physics is in a spin*

*Physics is in a spin**Learning by Bart*

*Learning by Bart**Simon Singh has created a **classroom resource for A-level students that explores the maths and physics featured in The Simpsons.*

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