Numeracy problems among younger children have led to a decrease in the number of people able to complete University level math courses, and numeracy failings also have a huge impact on people’s ability to enter professions or academia in areas like science, engineering and computing. There has been a rising fear that the UK risks being left behind unless it tackles these problems swiftly. Numeracy is to some extent linked to almost everything people need to do in day to day life, from paying bills to planning journeys.
The Telegraph is leading a campaign to increase numeracy within the UK: Make Britain Count. A particular success has been the Icelandic ‘math entertainer’ Kjartan Poskitt, who is travelling around Britain’s schools lighting the spark of inspiration in the children he sees. Over the course of his 75 minute ‘act’ he enthralls his audience with mathematical facts and games. His pennies on a chessboard routine is a particular favorite, showing children how quickly numbers compound and perhaps saving some a painful lesson in learning the problems inherent in martingale systems.
“By the time you reach square 21, the pile of pennies on that square is a mile high,” announces Poskitt. “On the 39th square, the pile reaches to the Moon, and by the 48th square, past the Sun. On the 64th square, the value of the pile of pennies is around 92 million billion pounds!”
It may be difficult for some to envision a math classroom full of excited children, all eager to be the next chosen to partake in a demonstration, but that is Poskitt’s ‘Murderous Maths’ routine.
“When I was a boy, the only thing I was any good at was maths,” he says. “I’ve always loved the subject, but I know a lot of people find it very difficult. Fact is, it doesn’t have to be, especially if you make it fun.”
A new exhibition is also on show in the Mathematics Gallery at London’s Science Museum which illustrates how artists draw inspiration from mathematical models, seeing the abstract beauty of them.