Bobby Seagull is a part-time maths teacher, part-time doctorate student at the Faculty of Education in Cambridge, and a well-known TV personality in the UK. During 2016-17, Bobby participated on the BBC quiz show University Challenge, where he captained the Emmanuel College Cambridge team. The team was narrowly defeated by students at Wolfson College, in the tightest semi-final for 13 years. Since then, Bobby has been engaged in various public engagement activities to promote his love for maths. Monkman & Seagull’s Genius Guide to Britain, his first TV series, was recently shown on the BBC.
As a school maths teacher, one of my favourite topics is the Venn diagram. Imagine a Venn diagram with one circle representing the set of Cambridge University Doctorate students, another circle of the viewers of the BBC quiz show University Challenge and a final circle for fans of my new BBC TV programme Monkman & Seagull’s Genius Guide To Britain.
On BBC Radio Four around 6.50am on a weekday, you’ll often hear my Today Programme puzzles challenging its weekly audience of 7 million. Here is one such puzzle for you, no peeking at the answers at the end!
My EdD Mission
As a part-time Doctor of Education (EdD) student, I am researching maths anxiety experienced by school students. From a research perspective, the construct of maths anxiety has been a topic of study since the concept of “number anxiety” was introduced by Dreger & Aitken (1957). With increased focus on mathematical performance in recent years, maths anxiety has seen further study. It is defined as a “feeling of tension and anxiety that interferes with the manipulation of numbers and the solving of mathematical problems in … ordinary life and academic situations” (Richardson & Suinn, 1972).
Whilst I appreciate the innate beauty of mathematics, I understand school students and parents do not universally share this perspective. I try to engage students in a way that feels pertinent to them – be it through comparing footballers Messi and Ronaldo via statistics, how trigonometry aids architects, or even how numbers influence a dating show like Love Island!
Sadly, mathematics has a negative reputation within many parts of British society. My raison d’être is to play a role in changing the way people (both students and adults) perceive mathematics. As a part-time class teacher, I understand the day-to-day mathematical experiences of my students.
As a part-time researcher, I want to develop my understanding of what people understand as maths anxiety, the negative emotional response when encountering the subject and its causes from a pedagogical perspective. Finlayson (2014) reported that maths anxiety was usually linked with classroom teaching styles and early negative maths experiences reinforce negative self-perception of oneself as a maths learner.
I’m an ambassador for a charity called National Numeracy, set up in 2012 to challenge unfavourable attitudes by the population in general towards maths. Research by Pro Bono Economics for National Numeracy suggests that outcomes associated with low levels of adult numeracy cost the UK economy £20 billion a year. Simply beyond individual satisfaction of mathematical competency, this is clearly financially unacceptable.
Beyond the School Classroom
I am keen on engaging people outside my classroom. I am fortunate to have a public platform from my time on University Challenge to share my passion for mathematics more widely. As well as my school students, I had three high profile (and older!) pupils this year – the BBC Breakfast News presenters. The BBC put a spotlight on school maths and the main secondary school GCSE exams. I supported and taught the three BBC presenters for their Maths GCSE and fortunately they all passed!
National Numeracy Day
thCountdown Financial Times Who Wants To Be A Millionaire
Monkman and Seagull
In 2017, I published The Monkman and Seagull Quiz Book with Eric Monkman, my former Wolfson University Challenge rival. We also co-hosted our Radio Four programme on Polymaths, discussing how the nature of academic specialisation means that it can sometimes take years for individuals to contribute to the corpus of human knowledge. More recently, Eric and I went on a road trip around the UK searching for Britain’s most remarkable and quirky scientific & technological achievements in Monkman and Seagull’s Genius Guide to Britain on BBC.
I have been fortunate to engage with academics in different areas of maths education. Dr Jo Boaler, Professor of Mathematics Education at Stanford, is one of my idols for how she is trying to transform mathematical mindsets. I share her belief that we need to shatter the myth of the maths brain – that you can or can’t do maths. I strongly believe that with deliberate, targeted effort, we can all improve our confidence and competence in maths. That’s why I’ve also published my own book, The Life Changing Magic of Numbers, partly autobiographical, partly ode to numbers, to share my passion on why maths and numbers are relevant to all of us.
Beyond the EdD
My public engagements benefit my Doctorate research by helping me to better understand the context of maths anxiety in this country and give me insights to solutions tackling maths anxiety from various perspectives. Society in general, and parents in particular, pass on their mindset on mathematics, positive or negative, to our children.
Puzzle For Today Solution: There are 40 Doctorate students.
Bobby Seagull is an EdD student at Emmanuel College and the Faculty of Education in Cambridge. As a part-time school maths teacher, he is enthusiastic about all things numbers and is a long-suffering West Ham fan. Bobby is also a Chartered Accountant and a former investment banking trader. You can follow him on Twitter or on Instagram