The 2021 Annual Conference was a virtual one because of the restrictions in place due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The conference was also part of the MA’s 150th Anniversary celebrations. Conference bookings were capped at 1,000 and this total was reached a few days before conference. Almost 200 further bookings for access to the recordings followed.
The theme of the conference was Building Mathematicians for the Future and was held on 1st, 9th and 10th April 2021. Dr Nira Chamberlain, President of The Institute of Mathematics and its Applications opened the conference. His talk, The Black Heroes of Mathematics, was inspiring. He shared his own story and those of other inspirational men and women who overcame obstacles to prove that mathematics is truly for everybody. The chat box exploded with teachers keen to share these life stories with their students.
The two further plenaries on Day 1 were Claire Metcalfe and Liz Woodham of the NRICH Team - Creating a Low Threshold High Ceiling Classroom and Steve Wren HMI, The impact of the pandemic upon mathematics education in English schools. Claire and Liz took us through the NRICH task Dozens, giving us the opportunity to work on the task ourselves and consider how we could use it in the classroom. Steve Wren’s open and honest presentation shared how some schools had coped with the pandemic, and its impact in mathematics. Steve did not pretend there were answers when there were none and the chat box showed that his audience appreciated this.
The second day saw Dr Hannah Fry’s engaging Presidential Address, Communicating what counts - lessons I've learned in how to bring maths to the masses. Hannah’s 8 tips (numbered 0 to 7, of course) included reminders to start and end big, include a hook such as a key and a puzzle so that your audience have a reason to care about what you are saying and much more. Also on this middle day were the AGM, Sponsors Expos, Mathematical art exhibition, General Network room, Fun Quiz hosted by Martin Harris and Andrew Jeffrey’s Mathematical Mysteries – truly something for everyone.
Dr Colin Foster, Reader in Mathematics Education in the Mathematics Education Centre at Loughborough University opened the third and final day with his plenary ‘Can we teach ‘understanding’? Colin questioned what we mean by understanding and whether we can teach understanding, or do we have to wait for it to emerge? He began by inviting us to answer the question, ‘What kind of maths teacher are you?’ This led to some unpacking of what we mean by conceptual understanding and how hard it is to define and assess, particularly when compared to procedural understanding. With a focus on Pythagoras’ theorem, Colin explored whether demonstration and proof led to understanding, noting that neither answered why these demonstrations and proofs work. Colin gave us many interesting questions to consider along the way, for example, ‘Are tasks tests of understanding or do they generate understanding?’ This was a very interesting and thought-provoking plenary.
So, our first virtual conference was a great success. Thanks go, of course, to the whole of the conference team at the MA, the speakers who created some fascinating and engaging content, the delegates for getting involved and our sponsors, without whom we could not have brought the conference to you for as little as £10. Event Works Europe did a fantastic job preparing speakers and presenters for the event and hosting it over the three days. The main host, Neil, ensured there was a great atmosphere throughout, despite the event being online.
We will be working with Event Works Europe to bring you further events. Meanwhile, mark next year’s conference in your diary: 12th – 14th April 2022, format and details to be decided.
Cherri Moseley, Chair of Conferences