Friday, September 7, 2012

"Sustaining mathematics" - a colloquium

My department runs a weekly "Mathematics Colloquium" - a presentation, usually by a visiting speaker but sometimes by a department member, which introduces and explains some new development in and around mathematics.

This week, for the first colloquium of the new academic year, the colloquium committee invited me as the outgoing department head to share some reflections about what I'd learned since taking up that office in 2007.  I tried to organize my thoughts around the theme of "Sustaining Mathematics", and on sustaining four "ecosystems" each of which is embedded in the next one:
  1. Personal intellectual life
  2. The culture of mathematics
  3. Public support for and understanding of mathematics
  4. The global environment
... and under (4), I gave a quick run-through of some basic calculations related to climate change (mostly working from the excellent blog Do The Math, especially this post.)

If you are interested in the presentation, you can find the slides here.

 For my mathematical audience, these calculations were easy to follow.  Nevertheless, it seemed to me that quite a few had not really engaged with this material before, even at this quite modest level.  One of the points I tried to make - I don't know whether I succeeded or not - is that as technical educators we have a responsibility not just to think about these questions for ourselves but also to develop our students' ability to engage with them in an informed way.

I'm interested in hearing about other peoples' efforts to do that.

1 comment:

John Roe said...

Immediately after writing, I came across this very interesting post from Keith Devlin at the MAA: What is mathematical thinking?