Podcast – How the love of maths pure maths guide came about

Pale brown coloured folded paper graphic
John Waterman talking in May 2019 about how the love of maths pure maths guide came about

So yes, I did a lot of tuition. And I guess it was during that time that many of the ideas in the book came to fruition because I had the unique privilege of being able to spend time with one person and try to puzzle out: why is it that they are finding this difficult? It doesn’t look that difficult to me. But they seem to struggle with it.

And I could do that in a one to one situation the way you can’t in the classroom. And I guess over the years I accumulated little tricks and ideas and diagrams which might be helpful. But I guess for the book itself, that really first came to mind as a sort of a potential germ of a project when I was actually teaching and it used to be when situations like this occurred.

A student would have been, maybe, off sick for a week and he’d come back, or she would come back, and I would have to cover, in the lesson. I couldn’t wait for them to come back in order to carry on with the syllabus. So I had to go over and teach a new topic, and they would have had homework to do. And suddenly the student comes back.

It’s all gobbledygook to them, what do you do? Well I first of all started to try to see them in my lunch hour or after school. But it soon became evident that I was not going to be able to do this. I was not going to do this indefinitely. So I hunted around to see if there was a book somewhere that was designed for people to read independently, as opposed to a textbook, which essentially is there as an overview. It does sort of explain the theory but not in detail, certainly not designed as a self-help book.

I looked around and there were some in the States. The United States had much better, I found, of that kind of material. But of course, the American syllabus never matches, it’s slightly different. The whole way they approach things is different in many cases. So it wasn’t going to work. So it was all in the back of my mind.

And so, as soon as I retired, one of the first things I did was to start, to start to do that. I never dreamt how difficult it would be. I never dreamt how long it would take and I never dreamt how boring it would get at times. Because if you are producing 20 or 30 questions on the topic and having to think through exactly how difficult you want each one of them to be, make sure it works out not easily enough and not too easily, and grade them so that you had the easy ones and the harder ones and the even harder ones.

It was a very long haul, but I was so committed that there ought to be something available. There ought to be something that you could say to a child, “Look, if you don’t understand, this might help. Just take it away, see how you get on. If you can’t, fine, come back and see me but at least, give it a go.”

John Waterman May 2019