Hello Rookie Mathematician,
In order to be reading this page you must be slightly kooky, by which I mean you are a keen mathematician. You might be in the Top-Top Set in your school, your teacher or parent might have recommended you, or you might have seen one of our tweets (@ParallelMaths). Alternatively, you might have hacked into our mailing list, in which case you clearly have the right sort of enthusiasm (but perhaps not the right morals) to be part of the project.
Each Thursday at 3pm, you will have access to a new set of online mathematical challenges – each set of challenges is called a Parallelogram.
It should take just 15 minutes to complete each Parallelogram. If you quit and return to the Challenges, then your previous answers will be saved. (After Christmas, the Parallelograms will take a bit more time.)
If the rest of your class is also doing Paralellograms, then you will need to complete the challenges and hit the SUBMIT button by midnight on Sunday. Otherwise, try to finish before the next Parallelogram is released on Thursday.
As soon as you hit the SUBMIT button, you will be able to see the answers as well as your score. Most importantly of all, make sure you go through the solution sheet and try to learn by your mistakes.
This year, you will earn points depending on your percentage score on each Parallelogram, which in turn will earn you mathematical badges. There will be prizes for schools and students linked to the badges – more news soon.
Why is this project called ‘parallel’? Well, parallel lines don’t cross over – check with Euclid if you don’t believe me – and in general the challenges that I set you will not cross over with what you are doing in school. These maths challenges are often going to involve ideas that are in the unexplored universe of numbers.
You are going to be entering a peculiar Numberverse, and some of the puzzles, riddles and problems that you encounter will make your brain ache. But don’t worry, doing real maths means meeting difficult ideas and having to wrestle with them. If too many of you find the challenges too easy, then I am doing something wrong. At the same time, I think you will be able to do most of the challenges, otherwise you would not be on this website.
What will the challenges look like? Be prepared for anything. They will involve paradoxes, history, videos, songs, online articles, online lectures, deep maths, weird maths, funny maths and maths in the headlines.
What do you do if you get stuck? First, you try harder. Second, you try even harder. Third, you try until it hurts. However, I am not cruel, so there will be hint buttons if you are really stuck, and you can also talk to your family or classmates. And, if you still get the answer wrong, then that is also okay. It just means that you will learn even more when you see the answer sheet.
Before I sign off, you might wonder who is writing this email. When I was your age, I loved maths. I definitely wasn’t the best in the class and I often found maths hard, but I always enjoyed the challenge and learned to be determined.
My parents grew up in India in the 1930s and did not have a proper education (and mum still can’t read or write), so they were both very keen that I made the best of my time at school … and sure enough I left school and earned a place to study physics at Imperial College in London, and then I went to Cambridge University and CERN and completed a doctorate (a PhD) in particle physics. We were messing around with antimatter, bosons and quarks – all very exciting. Since then, I have written books and presented radio/TV programmes about maths/science, and now I am creating Parallel maths challenges for you.