Maths: Alex Bellos lecture - Can you solve my problems?

Last week ten Year 8 pupils were invited to attend a lecture at Hanford, as part of the school’s STEM week, to listen to a talk by Alex Bellos.

Alex Bellos is a British writer and broadcaster. He is the author of books about mathematics, as well as having a column in The Guardian newspaper.

The theme of his lecture was ‘The Origin of Number’. We heard about the history of the numerical symbols, the various ways of recording a tally around the world and the use of a Japanese abacus. One of the highlights was a video clip Alex showed us. It demonstrated that chimpanzees have a photographic memory and are much better than humans at remembering a sequence of numbers.

We were also amazed by the speed and agility of Japanese students when required to quickly add numbers which flash up on a screen. Two students were even able to play a word association game at the same time! The Japanese students visualise the soroban (Japanese abacus) to enable them to calculate at speed, as seen here.