Video: For Jamie Mulholland, “mathematics is not a spectator sport”

Jamie Mulholland traces his interest in mathematics back to his parents.

“Their perceptions of math were that you just really need it to get through life, no matter what you’re going to do,” he says. They taught him that “it’s not about formulas, it’s not about arithmetic, it’s just a way of thinking, a way to solve problems – having confidence in your ability to solve problems.”

Now he is spreading that gospel with great success as a lecturer in Mathematics. In the video interview posted above, he talks about his love for teaching and the epiphany he had as a teaching assistant standing in front of a class for the first time: “It was partway through the lecture that I realized this is what I love doing – talking about mathematics, helping other people to see why I love mathematics and why they should open up their minds and their hearts to love it too.”

Clearly he is very good at what he does: in February he was one of three faculty members to receive a 2011 SFU Excellence in Teaching Award. What makes him a great teacher? Undoubtedly part of the answer is to be found in his teaching philosophy. He quotes the Hungarian mathematician George Pólya, who said, “Mathematics is not a spectator sport.”

“And this is the philosophy that I take,” says Mulholland. “[My students] can’t just passively sit by and watch me present. They need to be engaged. They need to be working through mathematics on their own. They need to be doing the math, not me. I don’t need to be doing the math; I need to be assisting them with their pursuits in math.”

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