Time flies when you’re having fun!

Read the original article in the St Edmund Hall Magazine here.

Whilst it has been fantastic to be back doing in-person events over the past 12 months, I certainly don’t appreciate how fast the time has gone! Following almost 2 years of pent-up demand for outreach events, to say I’ve been busy recently would be an understatement…

What was perhaps the biggest success of the year, however, was in fact an online video in the form of a recording of me taking a GCSE Maths Exam. The idea follows on from the success of my A-level Maths Exam video last year, with both videos now having over 1 million views apiece. If you feel like reminiscing about school maths, or just simply laughing at my attempts to rack my brain to remember my circle theorems, then do check out the video below.

Following talks at the British Science Festival in Chelmsford and Maths Week Ireland,  October saw the first ever performance of a maths-based variety show as part of IF Oxford – the Oxford Science and Ideas Festival. Most performers were former or current students of mine at Teddy Hall, and the idea was to present maths in never-before-seen contexts. Joshua Ryman’s stand-up comedy and Siddiq Islam’s maths love song were particular highlights – you can watch recordings of both below.

The pace continued aplenty into November with a school visit to Bullers Wood in Bromley living long in the memory. Never before have I seen a group of students more excited to be doing maths – although I’m pretty sure it may have had something to do with watching one of their teachers attempt to run the 100m in under 17 seconds. Exactly why we were doing this I’ll leave up to your imagination, but the feeling of immense joy at the success of the event reminded me just why in-person events are so important.

I was also able to attend to attend the Football Social Summit at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome as an invited speaker to present my mathematical algorithm for determining the greatest footballer of all time. In fact, as a result of this appearance I’ve since been working with Serie A and the English Football League on various projects that aim to bring maths to the beautiful game. Any opportunity to increase engagement with the subject is invaluable, but being able to do it through the world’s most popular – and my favourite – sport, really is the jackpot. Look out for the results of these collaborations over the coming year.

Following the usual busy admissions period, filming for one of my favourite projects of the year began in January, culminating in the release of the video “How hard is the Oxford Interview?” with YouTuber Mike Boyd in March. You may recall the first video we made together in November 2020 where Mike sat the Oxford Maths Admissions Test – now at almost 3 million views – with the second instalment in the series seeing Mike take part in an admissions interview with Teddy Maths Fellow Olivier Riordan. The video is designed to be used as a resource for candidates as to what we are looking for in potential students, and to help to demystify the interview process. You can watch it below.

Inspired by working on this video with Mike, I also recorded two videos for my own YouTube channel which break down past admissions interview questions. The first asks how many times the digit 1 appears when writing out the numbers 1 through to 999, whilst the second talks about the optimal size for a tin of cat food. You can watch both videos – and have a go at the problems for yourself – at the links below:

Two of the biggest live events of the year also took place in March, beginning with my talk on the “Million-dollar Equations” at New Scientist Live in Manchester. I also took part in a Q&A session at the event discussing my outreach work which saw some fantastic questions from students as young as 6! However, the real highlight in terms of live performances came later in the month where I took to the stage at London’s Soho Theatre for back-to-back sell-out performances at Maths Inspiration. Discussing my research into the spread of ocean pollution to a 1000-strong theatre audience is not something I ever thought possible, and I can only hope that the students enjoyed it as much as I did!

Another personal milestone was reached in May as I passed 100,000 subscribers to the ‘Tom Rocks Maths’ YouTube channel. This is deemed large enough for YouTube to send me a congratulatory letter and an award called the ‘silver play button’ to commemorate the achievement. Next up is a ‘gold play button’ and the small matter of 1 million subscribers – wish me luck!

As things began to wind down in June and July ahead of the summer vacation, I was asked by the Houses of Parliament Magazine to set some maths puzzles to accompany an article by Baroness Garden on the importance of maths education. This was a decidedly difficult task, given the range of mathematical ability and interest amongst the audience, and so I settled on 3 questions, listed with difficulty ratings of easy, medium and hard. You can try the puzzles for yourself – as well as reading Baroness Garden’s excellent article – here.

Across the year I have also been fortunate enough to continue to work with the Numberphile YouTube channel – the largest maths platform on the internet with over 4 million subscribers. The video ‘A Problem with Rectangles’ is a personal favourite as we break down an admissions interview question I used in the 2020 and 2021 cycles. Try it for yourself whilst watching the video below.

Finally, I want to leave you all with a closing video of a great personal triumph. As an avid runner, and former student of both Oxford and Cambridge, I decided to undertake the task of running between the two cities. Accompanied by my brother and my dad on the support bike, we began at Queens’ College Cambridge at 9am, and finished at St Edmund Hall Oxford around 6pm the following day. In total we were moving for around 13 hours and covered 127km. I hope that watching me limp through the final metres as I cross over Magdalen bridge with the final destination in sight will fill you with the same sense of homecoming that only the Hall can generate. Floreat Aula!

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