Waterloo University’s Math Workshops

Article By: Alice Ye

Photograph by: Mild Chawalitanon

When asked to describe math in one word, words that often come up are “difficult,” “challenging,” or even “painful”. However, Mr. Hillman, the head of the High School Math Department, hoped to change this mindset and “give students a new appreciation for the pure enjoyment of solving mathematical puzzles” and arranged the Waterloo University Math Workshop held on November 3. It was held by representatives from the Waterloo University Mathematics Department, and it focused on helping ISM math students develop better problem-solving skills, apply mathematical concepts to other situations, and view math from a different perspective.

Home to the world’s largest university math department (the only one in North America dedicated solely to the study of mathematics), Waterloo University has one of the most prestigious math programmes in the world and also manages the mathematics contests that some students, especially the IB Higher Level Math students, end up taking, such as the Euclid Mathematics Contest. One of Waterloo University’s mathematics professors Jeff Anderson and representative Amelia Burton, both of whom are highly involved in the university’s math faculty, visited ISM and held the workshop. Thus, the workshop was also a great opportunity for students to meet a math professor from the university and ask questions.

By providing students with math problems that are uncommon in most schools’ regular curriculum, this workshop helped introduce students to a different perspective, enabling them to develop problem-solving skills and recall concepts learnt in mathematics to apply them to unfamiliar situations. It also taught them skills beneficial for their final exams and general performance in mathematics. Mr Hillman believes this workshop enhanced the math classroom experience as it “encouraged students to be time efficient in solving problems – always seeking the best and quickest solution possible” as “completing Higher Level IB papers within the time constraints is a real challenge and this workshop helped to think about quicker and often easier ways to approach problems. Solving problems as well as considerable contextual application are key to success in HL mathematics”.

At the end of the session, Professor Anderson talked about how mathematics is useful in everyday life, as well as future career options for students with mathematical backgrounds and degrees in which mathematics play a major role, showcasing just how prevalent mathematics is in our lives. Did you know about how integral math is for a special effects director in Hollywood? How about for a game designer or forensics scientist? Or even a cryptanalyst? Overall, the feedback Mr. Hillman received after the workshop has been “generally very positive,” with students describing it as “enlightening” and “helpful,” words that contrast greatly with those mentioned at the beginning of this article.