Secondary - Maths - A video worth tuning into

30th March 2012 at 01:00

What the lesson is about

How do you handle the last lesson of term? My way out is to show Simon Singh's documentary on Andrew Wiles' solution of Fermat's Last Theorem. Now available on YouTube, this represents the best mathematics ever filmed and always reduces me to tears, writes Jonny Griffiths.

The video opens with Andrew on the edge of tears himself as he tries to convey how special it was to discover the final moment of his proof. My pupils may have cried about maths, but never for positive reasons, and to meet this rather awkward man who had been so moved by his love of mathematics was startling.

We learn how Andrew worked alone on this problem for seven years, night and day, without telling any colleague what he was doing. The programme reaches its climax as he explains his final step. "Do you understand this stuff, Jonny?" asks a pupil innocently, and I shift a little uneasily in my seat. "Oh yes, no problem, Tom."

Then the story takes a twist - there's a mistake in Andrew's proof. Now here's something all my young learners can appreciate - you hand in your work and someone marks it, and you've got something wrong. Now Andrew's mistake is one that maybe only three people in the world could have spotted - but it's a mistake, none the less. So the programme has a second climax, as Andrew, after intense pain, resolves his error.

"I've had the rare privilege," Andrew tells his audience, "of being able to pursue my childhood dream in my adult life."

I look around my class as they troop out, and hope some of them will fulfil their own childhood dreams.

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