From the Archive - 15.12.1961

23rd November 2012 at 00:00

Fun with figures: Norwich maths quiz

In their search for new ways of bringing home the excitement of their subject to the younger generation, the Norwich Mathematics Teachers' Association hit last week on a pleasantly informal approach.

Ten "guinea pigs", watched by bands of supporters, gathered in the frosty East Anglian evening in the library of Norwich High School for Girls to pit their wits against each other - not to mention the monstrous regiments of mathematicians - in a further round of the battle of the sexes: a mathematics quiz between five boys and five girls from the sixth forms of local schools.

The competitors were gathered from seven schools and the whole evening, as the chairman pointed out, was very much of an experiment. Would the questions be too hard or too easy? Would the competitors let themselves go or would they, self-conscious in the presence of a number of their own teachers and form-mates, stand on their dignity and try to answer only when pretty sure they were right?

Fortunately, any such misgivings proved unfounded: the first round broke the ice with a series of significant numbers.

The students went on with renewed enthusiasm and, on occasion, rather less success to defining and explaining the derivation of various mathematical terms: few had much trouble explaining what a logarithm, a surd or a chord were, or the meaning of calculus, kinematics and dynamics, but the origins of the words were largely a mystery, Latin providing at best a shaky guide and Greek being conspicuous by its absence.

Problems were more fun, especially as the answers were written down and the first right answer scored the points.

By the end, the girls had pulled ahead to a 45-40 victory. The evening was over and 10 cheery contestants, armed with book tokens as a slight reward for bravery, sped off in to the night.

As one teacher remarked: "Well, they all seemed to enjoy it and that's the main thing."

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