What is a (#)moment_of_maths

A moment is sometimes thought of as a short indefinite period of time. It’s as small as a thought and is gone in a flash. A moment is often the time it takes to change from one state to another. Not the time for the whole process but the time when one state disappears and the other takes over. This might be the moment that day becomes night, or when a an impossible problem becomes possible.

The moment itself is immeasurably short but can often only happen because of processes and work that have been happening for ages prior to that moment. My favourite example of such a moment can be seen when Andrew Wiles explains the moment he made the discovery that allowed him to solve Fermat’s last theorem.

It’s clear that the effort it took to have this profound moment of revelation was immense. For a moment to be meaningful, there must be some prior effort to make a change of some kind. This might be a discovery or a development of some kind.

I remember a moment that seemed to change my educational trajectory when I was in what would now be called year 4. It was a simple yet profound truth about numbers and 1 to 1 correspondence. I suspect that today, it would not be possible for an 8 year old to have this experience as this idea is thoroughly taught. Maybe it was for me too but neither I nor any of my classmates before me managed to solve this simple problem for some time. The problem was this. Given blocks of 3 different colours, how could you tell if two of the colours had the same number of blocks. The difficulty was that you had to do it without counting.

I happened to spend a lot longer on this problem than any of my classmates and came up with a solution after some time. I remember this moment to this day, not because it seemed like a significant achievement then, it did not. I have since then identified as a mathematician. I remember tasks and puzzles in maths somehow having meaning after this and that I enjoyed doing maths puzzles and finding patterns after this.

Moments seem to play an extremely important role in maths development. Many people who consider themselves to be mathematicians had a moment of enlightenment. Equally, many who now fear maths also had a moment, often of shame, that stayed with them and helped to define their relationship with the subject.

This site is dedicated to the creation of uplifting moments in maths. We feel that this is likely to be promoted by the sharing of puzzles, experiences, events and giving our readers opportunities to reflect upon moments of their own and share them with us. Each week, we will offer a challenge, related activities and news about moments in our clubs or opportunities for experiences in and around London. We hope that you will enjoy these offering and that they will help you to cultivate more positive moments of maths of your own.