How mathematics has influenced my life
Interview with Professor Celia Hoyles OBE
Professor Celia Hoyles OBE is the director of the NCETM and a mathematics educator of long standing. She has been Professor of Mathematics Education at the Institute of Education, University of London since 1984, and was head of the Mathematical Sciences Group from September 1995 to August 1998. She was awarded a first class honours mathematics degree in 1967 at Manchester University, and her PhD in Mathematics Education in 1980. She has been the director of over a dozen research projects concerned with primary and secondary mathematics, particularly in relation to the use of computers, students' conceptions of proving and proof, and mathematics used in the workplace. In 2004, the then Secretary of State for Education and Skills, Charles Clarke, welcomed her appointment as Chief Adviser for Mathematics.
For more details about Celia’s achievements click here and follow the profile link.
When asked which weblink she would like included in this interview this was her response: the only link I would like is to the NCETM portal. It has such a wealth of ideas now and ways teachers can engage with each other around mathematics. I just hope they will have the opportunity to benefit from it. There is a growing primary community and resources to work with – just browse by phase and pop things you like in your favourites and do let us know how you use our provision.
What were your memories of mathematics when you were at school?
In primary school, I was taught in a very traditional way but always with humour – even when we did endless sums about ‘one man digging a hole at x rate, how long would n men take etc’! So odd! In secondary school, I remember my applied mathematics teacher – dashing, glamorous and trained as an engineer (very unusual then). I also had a wonderful pure mathematics teacher, very painstaking in ensuring we all appreciated the ‘why’ of the mathematics she taught and not only the ‘how’. In addition to these two, I had a superb tutor at Manchester University who was a real inspiration. I have always found the subject challenging but enjoyable and rewarding as well. It was not easy and I was never bored! I always worked hard; I really wanted to really understand and would persevere until I did, usually working with others if I could. To be honest, I was rewarded and did well.
Have you always been a mathematician, or is it an interest that developed during your working life?
After earning my degree, I taught mathematics. I found it challenging but discovered a new passion aligned to my old one but just as hard – that is, to try to appreciate ‘the pupil’s view of mathematics’ (the title of my PhD) which involved analysing pupils’ conceptions and attitudes. This included misconceptions but also much more, for example, how so often the particular way we teach one topic can have consequences later (just think of adding 0 as a way to multiply by 10, and then students working with decimals!). Since then I have tried to make mathematics more accessible to more students in whatever way I can.
I work a lot now with ICT as a way to take forward this lifetime agenda – to challenge our students mathematically, but with a range of scaffolds in place so students are able to rise to this challenge and obtain timely feedback on their efforts.
We had a wonderful project in primary schools that involved setting up and interrogating a database around how to find the best home for a family, each with a range of distinctive characteristics, and including an alien who had even stranger needs! We worked with a range of teachers and the project became a whole-school project in some places – it was hard fun. I also became very involved with Logo – who remembers the turtle? The idea of a programming language for learning mathematics has spread to many software innovations. The key to the success of any scenario of ICT use in classrooms is, in any instance, of course the teacher.
My latest passion is the NCETM and to work with our team to put in place an infrastructure so all teachers can have the advantages and the stimulation that I was fortunate enough to have enjoyed.
How has mathematics impacted on your life?
Well mathematics has defined my life in so many ways… as a teacher but so much more. I am married to a mathematician (Richard Noss) who also loves technology. We do research together on the use of ICT and mathematics. We also talk about mathematics and the perspective it gives us – and we talk to our non-mathematical friends about it. I want everybody to be a mathematics champion!
How did you get to where you are today?
Very traditional route I’m afraid – A Level Pure and Applied as it then was, then Mathematics degree, became a teacher and started to study mathematics education in PGCE, MEd and then PhD. I have kept on learning as much as possible since then.
If you could phone anyone from your past to say thank you for what you have learnt who would it be and what would you say?
I would like to phone my dear dad – who has sadly died. He always supported me in my mathematics (he was an accountant) and I would like him to know how much I learned from him in so many ways.
What do you think could be done to help inspire more young people to enjoy mathematics today?
We just need to support teachers to be able to transmit the joy of it all and to help their students to be successful by building on what the student can do – this sounds easy but in fact it is quite challenging. You need to be a bit of a detective – what is the student thinking and why?
When was the last time someone surprised you – mathematically speaking?
I was at a meeting with scientists about STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) and a physicist expressed surprise that mathematics teachers were trying to make mathematics teaching more exploratory and interactive. He was convinced that our teaching had not changed at all and we simply transmitted facts and arguments from the board that had to be duplicated and learned by the students.
If you weren’t working in a career that involved mathematics what would you be doing?
I think I would always be involved in some way in mathematics – but I would be spending more time playing tennis and enjoying all the galleries, museums, plays and music in London!
And finally, if you lived in a world of cubes and spheres, which would you rather be? Why?
A sphere: I don't like straight edges.