Prime time with Bobby Seagull

October 12, 2018

Inspiring mathematician Bobby Seagull on staying calm under pressure, teaching while famous and the maths behind football stickers…

  • Why are you excited to be an ambassador for the National Young Mathematicians’ Awards?

Although I teach secondary school students, particularly GCSE ones, I think that our attitudes to maths form earlier on. If we can encourage students in primary school and early secondary to really love solving maths problems, this will foster a passion for maths for the rest of their lives. And these individuals will go on to be positive ambassadors for maths with everyone they interact with.


  • Why is it important to inspire a love of maths?

I think maths is intrinsically a beautiful subject. We can find it in nature through Fibonacci numbers and the golden ratio in the petals of daisies, or the way the insect cicadas emerge in prime number years to avoid predators. However, as our real world revolves around numbers, developing a love of maths at school can mean that children become adults who are confident in dealing with the world.


  • What is the most unusual situation where maths has helped you?

As a primary school child, I used to collect football stickers. Friends used to speculate about which players were better than others. I went home and put in all the data about the players (such as goals scored, games played, substitute appearances etc.) and was able to come up with my thoughts but backed up with data. I realised the power of numbers and really got to love maths after that!


  • You continue to teach maths, is it strange for your pupils now that you are famous?

I think, on the whole, it just means my pupils will give me more of a chance to explain a trickier topic (like solving quadratic equations) as they might think, “That Mr Seagull, he’s on the telly, so he can’t be that bad!” Though there are some pupils that don’t really know what the fuss is about as they’ve never seen any of my TV programmes!


  • Competing on University Challenge must have been a huge amount of pressure. What advice do you have for children who will be competing in the National Young Mathematicians’ Awards?

My advice would be take a step back and try and remain calm! We all have situations in our lives where there will be lots of pressure on us. I think all we can do is give it our best efforts and know that we couldn’t have done much more.


  • Just like University Challenge, the National Young Mathematicians’ Awards is a team competition. What advice do you have for children working in a team?

Try to understand the strengths and weaknesses of other children in your team. Everyone brings a different skill set or approach to a question or problem. And make sure you listen to each other. It’s not always the loudest person who is correct!


  • How do you think we can inspire children, especially those who struggle, to love maths and become fearless learners?

I think it’s all about helping children to understand that making mistakes is a good and healthy part of the learning process. If we’re only getting things correct, it means that we’re not learning something new. So, making mistakes and getting support on how to correct them means that we are moving forward with our maths.

There’s still time to take part in our National Young Mathematicians’ Awards! It’s a great opportunity to celebrate and inspire the next generation of mathematicians.


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