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Secondary Magazine - Issue 61: The Interview

This page has been archived. The content was correct at the time of original publication, but is no longer updated.
Created on 24 May 2010 by ncetm_administrator
Updated on 08 June 2010 by ncetm_administrator


Secondary Magazine Issue 61microphone

The Interview

Name: Peter Lacey
Peter LaceyAbout you: I started teaching in 1968 when I was given responsibility for introducing ‘modern’ mathematics. I spent four days a week in a secondary school and one in a primary. Thank you, SMP for those wonderful hardback numbered books, which enabled and encouraged teachers and students to engage with and discuss their mathematics. Flourishing after-school maths clubs and workshops for parents added to the buzz and excitement. What a lucky start! Two schools later, as head of mathematics responding to Cockcroft, we spent a whole week filming each other’s lessons. The replays had an enormous effect on re-motivating us to give time back to the students for their own learning! (It made me understand what Mary Boole described as ‘teacher lusts’!)
A career highpoint was my appointment as North East regional co-ordinator for the then DfES-funded Raising Achievement in Mathematics Project (RAMP). Teachers of mathematics were released from their classrooms for one day a week over three years to research, reflect, review and refine their practice. They were known as teacher researchers. The energy created was transformational. Practice changed and an increasing circle of teachers adopted this method for themselves. Another career move brought me to the initial revisions of the mathematics statutory national curriculum and the early national tests. I learnt that expressing a curriculum as words on paper, however well stated, cannot itself capture the essence of mathematical excitement or the complexity of its construction. Arguably, the original non-statutory guidance prompted more response and action! Five years ago, after a ten-year stint in a local authority as deputy director of education, I ‘came out’ as an independent consultant. My membership of the ATM has shaped much of my work. Sharing struggles and successes in that community has provided me with a ‘professional home’. Through membership of its Council I have tried, over my career, to put something back in.
The most recent use of mathematics in my job was?
statistics most days: putting data in formation.
Some mathematics that amazes me…
the prevalence of the Fibonacci Sequence and Golden Ratio.
Why did I choose mathematics?
Because it can be worked on in solitude and in company, so I have a choice.
Because I can use the mathematics I know and can do to access and learn about mathematics beyond this boundary.
Because of its inter-connectedness: by virtue of my knowing something, there is something else I can also know.
Because of its rigour – pure logic; pure joy!!

A significant mathematics-related incident in my life...
was being contacted last year, out of the blue, by a student I taught 25 years ago who said she still remembered her mathematics lessons and was about to start a degree in mathematics so that she could become a mathematics teacher.
A mathematics joke that makes me laugh is...
The off-the-wall misinterpretations of expanding brackets, dropping perpendiculars, partial fractions and numerical eccentricity are amusing.
This oddity from Euler’s Identity makes me smile:

  e + 1   = 0   subtract 1
implies e = -1   take the square root
implies eiπ/2 = i   take the ith root
implies eπ/2 = i√i    

which suggests that the ith root of i is real with a value around 4.81!!

The best book that I have ever read
It’s hard to pick out just one. Some which stick in my mind are: Pi in the Sky by John Barrow; Deep Simplicity by John Gribben is a must; Mind Tools by Rudy Rucker; The Man Who loved Only Numbers, the biography of ErdÅ‘s by Paul Hoffman; Number Sense by Stanislas Dehaene. The list goes on: other books by Barrow, Wells, Paulos, Stewart and, of course, Du Sautoy, are all well ‘thumbed’ on my bookshelves. How Children Fail by John Holt significantly shaped my early teaching. Gattegno’s works significantly influenced my thinking about my teaching and my later practice. 

Who inspired me? 
This may sound trite and syrupy, but it’s true: in my teaching days when students were intensely busy making their own mathematics learning journeys, some of their challenging questions forced me to deepen my own mathematical understanding. You may have heard me tell the story of the 15-year-old student who asked the question: “What’s the equation of the curve that’s parallel to the parabola y = x2 ?” It lit us all up!! There were many more and, in this sense, my students inspired me. The RAMP teacher researchers inspired me with their dedication and effort to make mathematics a better experience for all learners in school. And they did!

If I was not doing this job...
This is a scary thought!! I don’t really know. I used to say that I would walk the dogs along the banks of the beautiful Humber estuary, buy the Yorkshire Post, drop in at the pub, read the paper, do the crossword, and walk back home. When I had this chance I couldn’t stand it!! I’ll probably slow down, return to my writing and become even grumpier. With the impending demise of the central control of education in this country, which currently tells teachers what they should be doing, I would like to think that all the subject associations will be there to offer professional homes to these teachers; to assure their nourishment and independent growth, and to shape that better world for all learners of mathematics. If I’m around, I want to be a part of that. It might take me back to the beginning of the page – a sort of re-incarnation!!

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