The first Black Mathematician Month outreach event

Looking back at the exciting day that closed our 2018 celebrations


Some of the Chalkdust team, along with David Lammy MP, Nira Chamberlain and head of UCL mathematics Helen Wilson

This post is part of Black Mathematician Month 2018. You can read more about Black Mathematician Month here.

Earlier this year we hosted the second edition of Black Mathematician Month, with articles including a biography of David Blackwell and an explanation of how Black Panther’s suit could be modelled mathematically. But we were also busy organising an exciting event: a full day of workshops, talks and activities targeted specifically at black students. Read on to find out how it went!

The day took place at the London Academy of Excellence, in Tottenham, and was attended by 60 Year 9/10 students from 6 local schools. The aim was to encourage young black students to engage more with maths, enjoy it and view it as an important skill for employment.

David Lammy was a guest of honour. Image: UCL MAPS.

To kick-start the day, David Lammy, the MP for Tottenham, gave a speech about the importance of believing that you can achieve anything, regardless of what your upbringing may have been like. For example Lammy spoke of WhatsApp founder Jan Koum, who had to migrate to the USA as a child with his parents, who both passed away soon after. Lammy also spoke about the recent Brexit proposal and how his team of researchers were needed to check through it and discuss how it would impact the public’s finances, which requires them to be very comfortable with mathematics. Each of these anecdotes served the purpose of highlighting the significance of maths in life’s difficult situations. Further, Lammy highlighted how the technological and economic climate is changing quickly, with maths students — such as the ones who were sat before him — well-placed to lead the way.

Keen to remind us that maths isn’t all just formulae, Nira Chamberlain then arrived with an enthusiastic, interactive and humorous presentation about how maths can be applied to the real world.

Nira during his introductory talk, “The power of real-world mathematics”

The workshops

The introductory talks were follows by a workshop session, with topics including number theory, modelling alien civilisations via the Drake Equation, frieze patterns and topology. The workshops were ran by Chalkdust members and Naz Miheisi. In the topology class, we made several types of Möbius loops, combined them and learnt about their properties. A discussion was also held about the Klein bottle and projective plane. The students were all trying to predict what the different shapes would turn out as, but were completely astonished by the results. Some said they would make great Christmas decorations!

The afternoon

In the afternoon, UCL undergraduate volunteers formed a Q&A panel to answer numerous questions from the pupils about what it’s like to study mathematics, including whether it’s necessary to turn up to lectures!

The day also featured a question and answer panel with undergraduates from UCL

To round off the day, there was a question relay between schools where the winning team got their very own Chalkdust T-shirts. The pupils got quite competitive against each other, albeit for the love of maths!

My perspective

As one of the undergraduate volunteers, I loved the whole day and the idea of inspiring the next generation felt very rewarding. I will be hoping to do more outreach events like this in the future.

Thank you to London Academy of Excellence for hosting the event, and to UCL mathematics department for funding it. The feedback from the schools showed that they thoroughly enjoyed the day and that it will really influence their pupils’ future decisions. After all, that’s what this month is all about!

Amin is a UCL first year maths undergrad, who loves giving back to the community in whatever shape or form. He has run three half marathons, raising over £900 for charity. He hopes to do a triathlon one day!
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