Hannah Fry: A Little History Lesson Maybe

Dear Hannah

We have not met. I suspect we will never meet. In the event that we did ever meet we could share our ‘stories’ about learning our Times Tables. Like you, they are not my strength – to be honest I don’t know them. Like you I had a parent keen to ensure that I knew how to multiply.

I was fortunate. Upon being asked by my mother if I knew my tables, my father came into my room in Hull and three hours later was able to update my mother that I could indeed multiply. His evidence? He had developed a mathematical board game to help children learn.

Impressive? Yes, but not as much as you may be thinking as it was ‘what he did’. A teacher, then lecturer, then mathematics inspector, his whole life has been spent developing ways in which teachers can better teach children, and our current project is to develop this so that parents and grandparents can better educate their own children.

Which kind of brings me to the point of this letter. You often reference Singapore Mathematics as a bench mark we in the UK should be adopting/emulating/aspiring to, but I wonder if you know the true origins of this mathematical approach? To paraphrase their own words: there is nothing special, we are just following the Sir Wilfred Cockcroft report into the Teaching of Mathematics. That would be my Godfather ‘Bill’, my fathers life long friend and colleague. The Professor WH Cockcroft who wrote the forward to my fathers early books on Modern Mathematics written with Mr Hamill, the Cockroft who was advisory editor to my fathers lead authour on the New Curriculum Mathematics For Schools book series (father also wrote many of the teachers notes for the original Mathematics For Schools series – maybe you know of it as Fletcher Maths?)

You see I can’t help but think that a bit of history would help. We don’t need to be following the follower when we have the leader in our midst. Check out the games and manipulatives used by our Singapore friends and then look at Go For Goal, World Series Baseball, Race Track, Theme Park, the Binary Dominoes (they have some in Bletchley Park if you are passing) ….. or better still come and talk to the man who developed all of them.

In the meantime good luck with the new family and of course the RI Christmas Lectures.

Edit: Some observations post lectures here.

Chris Marshall

Hannah Fry is a mathematician, author, lecturer, radio and television presenter, podcaster and public speaker. Her work includes studying the patterns of human behaviour, such as interpersonal relationships and dating and how mathematics can apply to them.