22 APRIL 2014

Paul Fannon

Can you tell us a little about your background?

I’ve been teaching Mathematics for twelve years – first at Cambridge University, then Sevenoaks School then the Stephen Perse Foundation where I helped introduce the IB. The Stephen Perse Foundation went on to become Sunday Times IB School of the Year 2010 and 2013.

I’m a big fan of mathematical problem solving and I love sharing this enthusiasm. I’ve been running masterclasses for local primary school children, I mark the British Maths Olympiad and over New Year I was in Hungary with the British Maths Squad, helping them get ready for the International Olympiad.

This interest in problem solving led me to reflect on the reasons why we teach Mathematics, and I think it is about much more than useful facts. Let’s face it – not many people ever use the quadratic equation in everyday life. However, the ways of thinking needed in mathematics – accuracy, creativity, analysis and criticality – are hugely applicable. I’m currently researching these processes for my doctorate with Cambridge University.

With my author team I’ve now written nine textbooks with CUP – the IB Higher Level and Standard Level core textbooks, four option books and three revision guides.  I’m married to one of the co-authors and we have a three year old son named after the mathematician Augustin Cauchy. Because we have so much spare time (!) we also represent England together in competitive Ballroom Dancing.

Have you always loved maths?

Absolutely! My earliest memories of school are solving fun puzzles. I once had a maths-jokes themed dinner party and I keep a little book by my bed for jotting down fun problems I think about as I’m going to sleep!

What’s your favourite area of mathematics?

Despite specialising in theoretical physics at university I’m currently really interested in statistics – I’ve been helping some research students with applying statistics which led me to look at some fascinating theories underlying some commonly used procedures. 

How do the Exam Preparation Guides help students?

The best way to get better at mathematics is to do mathematics. Hopefully these guides provide plenty of practice and a checklist of all the main facts and skills required, without being too dauntingly thick. They also contain guides to remind people of some of the ways calculators can help them and a list of common errors to watch out for.

We tried to make it distinct from just an abridged textbook. We know that people have already met all the material by the time they come to using this book, so we have structured it around common types of examination question, including some which overlap different syllabus topics.

What are your top tips for students preparing for IB Mathematics?

First of all, make sure that they know all the ways they can use their calculator – when I teach revision courses I’m always amazed at how few of the functions students are aware of.

Secondly, I think that it is really important to teach students how to think rather than just the content prescribed in the syllabus. I’m a big fan of Polya and his problem solving heuristics which I think are a great read for any IB student or teacher.

The exam is quite time pressured so I think it is very useful to do plenty of timed papers with someone guiding students as to how far they should have got at various intervals.

Finally I think that it is really important to keep students enjoying maths, even if it is in an exam. I don’t know anyone who can do good mathematics whilst stressed – remember to keep things in perspective, remember that you don’t have to get 100% to get a good grade and try to have fun!


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