Rethinking what it means to learn math (with Eugenia Cheng)

Clearer Thinking with Spencer Greenberg

Nov 22 2023 • 1 hr 18 mins

Read the full transcript here.

What should the goals of math education be? What does it mean to "think well"? Is math real? Why are feelings of bewilderment or confusion so common in math classes but not as common in other subjects? Schools now generally offer reading and writing instruction separately — even though both are important for language use — because the skill sets they require can differ so widely; so how might math education benefit from drawing a similar distinction? What should math classes impart to students that will enable them to engage as citizens with complex or controversial issues? What does it mean to ask good questions in math? Can math teach empathy? What is category theory? Can most people learn most things if they just have the right teacher and/or educational materials?

Eugenia Cheng is a mathematician, educator, author, public speaker, columnist, concert pianist, composer, and artist. She is Scientist In Residence at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She won tenure in Pure Mathematics at the University of Sheffield, UK, and is now Honorary Visiting Fellow at City, University of London. She has previously taught at the Universities of Cambridge, Chicago, and Nice, and holds a PhD in pure mathematics from the University of Cambridge. Alongside her research in Category Theory and undergraduate teaching, her aim is to rid the world of "math phobia". Eugenia was an early pioneer of math on YouTube, and her videos have been viewed around 15 million times to date. She has also written several books, including: How to Bake Pi (2015); Beyond Infinity (2017); The Art of Logic (2018); x + y : A Mathematician's Manifesto for Rethinking Gender (2020); The Joy of Abstraction: A Exploration of Math, Category Theory, and Life (2022); Is Math Real? How Simple Questions Lead Us to Mathematics' Deepest Truths (2023); and two children's books: Molly and the Mathematical Mysteries and Bake Infinite Pie with x + y. She also writes the "Everyday Math" column for the Wall Street Journal and has completed mathematical art commissions for Hotel EMC2, 6018 North, the Lubeznik Center, and the Cultural Center, Chicago. She is the founder of the Liederstube, an intimate oasis for art song based in Chicago. As a composer she has been commissioned by GRAMMY-nominated soprano Laura Strickling and is one of the composers for the LYNX Amplify series, setting work by autistic poets who are primarily non-speaking. Learn more about her at her website, eugeniacheng.com.

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