2015 BH Neumann Awards

BH Neumann Awards for 2015 were presented to Norman Do and Daniel Mathews on 10 October at a dinner at Hotel Realm, Canberra. The two recipients were chosen as recipients of this award for their outstanding contribution to the enrichment of mathematics learning. Mike Clapper, Executive Director of the Australian Mathematics Trust, presented the awards.

The third recipient, Kumudini Dharmadasa, was presented with her award at a private function in Tasmania.

This Award honours the influence of Professor Bernhard H Neumann AC, (1909 to 2002), who, after his arrival in Australia in 1962 provided outstanding leadership, support and encouragement for mathematics and the teaching of mathematics at all levels. » More information about Professor Neumann

Following are citations for the recipients.

Dr. H. Kumudini Dharmadasa

Dr. Kumudini Dharmadasa is a mathematics educator in Tasmania. Whilst being a lecturer at the University of Tasmania, she is constantly engaged in teaching Tasmanian maths students at all levels.

Kumudini completed her undergraduate studies at the University of Kelaniya, Sri Lanka, obtaining First Class Honours in both the B.Sc. General Degree in Physical Sciences (1977) and the B.Sc. Special Degree in Mathematics (1979).

Her career as a maths educator began in 1977 when she was appointed as a high school teacher in Mathematics in Sri Lanka. In 1979, she became a Teaching Assistant in the Department of Mathematics at her undergraduate University, and was promoted to the position of an assistant lecturer thereafter. From 1980 to1982, Kumudini served as Assistant Chief Examiner in Pure Mathematics for the Advanced Level (University Entrance) Examination in Sri Lanka.

In 1982, Kumudini was awarded a scholarship and a teaching assistantship by the University of Ottawa, Canada to commence a course work/research Master’s Degree program in Mathematics. During this period she was also awarded a P.E.O International Peace Scholarship and the Special Bursary for Graduate Entrants. She successfully completed the master’s program in 1984. As a research student specialising in the Theory of Representations of Groups, Kumudini entered the Doctoral Program at the University of Adelaide, South Australia. Here she was offered a University Grant Scholarship and tutored mathematics on a part-time basis.

In 1988, Kumudini was employed as a lecturer in Mathematics at the former Tasmanian State Institute of Technology. Her teaching career at the University of Tasmania commenced in 1989.

During the past 15 years Kumudini has worked in the capacity of AMOC State Director for Tasmania. The Mathematics Extended program was born through this role. In the program she works with three or four groups of Year 5 to 12 talented students per week, working through Mathematics Enrichment material as well as competition papers. The program generally culminates with a ‘Presentation Evening’ held at the end of the year, where the students have the opportunity to give a presentation of their favourite topic.

Nurturing Mathematical Talent is a program which arose through the need to educate the teacher community who are involved with gifted mathematics students. Kumudini, in collaboration with Howard Reeves (AMC State Director Tas) and Ros Cocker (Principal Education Officer, at the Department of Education), implemented the program which entails four 2.5-hour workshops during the year working through the most important areas of Mathematics which are essential for extended work in the early school years.

The Maths Matters Tasmania Forum was another initiative established by Kumudini, as an ongoing community engagement activity of the Discipline of Mathematics. At the Forum, pre-tertiary and tertiary mathematics educators get together to discuss matters important to maths education in the state. The long-standing problem of lack of algebraic skills of first year maths students led Kumudini to propose a strategy at last year’s forum, in order to improve these skills in pre-tertiary students in Tasmania. This year saw the pilot program ‘Essential Algebra Skills Workshop’ implemented throughout the State which consisted of four tutorials during the year for all Tasmanian pre-tertiary maths students. The expectation of the Working Party is to seek ways in which one can provide this facility to future prospective students. Kumudini is the recipient of numerous University Teaching Merit Certificates (teaching awards nominated by the students) in past years. She was also twice the holder of University Community Engagement Award.

Building knowledge, cultivating critical thinking and fostering curiosity are central to her teaching philosophy. These fundamental issues of teaching and learning will lead to higher quality learning outcomes only if the students find the material easy to understand, interesting, and the delivery inherently engaging. This demands teaching techniques that are culturally sensitive and targeted to the individual audience. For these reasons, Kumudini considers herself as engaged in a life-long pursuit of better strategies and techniques of teaching. I am sure you will all agree that Kumudini is a most deserving winner of the BH Neumann award.

Norman Do

NormanDo

As with most people, Norm’s story begins before he can remember, or even existed when his parents arrived in Australia as refugees from the Vietnam war, without knowledge of the language or culture, without friends or family, and without having had the opportunity for tertiary education. They worked hard to send him to Haileybury College, a private boys’ school in Melbourne, from the age of four. There, he was spoilt with great teachers, who tried to stimulate his natural interest in maths. He remembers being allowed to lie down at the back of the class to read challenging maths books, while his peers persevered with their times tables. Later, Norm entered Melbourne Grammar School, where he was introduced to maths problem solving and enrichment. Norm was inspired there by Lawrence Doolan’s after school classes, which shaped his view of the subject. At that stage, whilst Norm liked maths, it never occurred to him that he was particularly good at it. After receiving a prize in the Australian Mathematics Competition, a friend pointed out the significance of such an achievement. It was only then that he realised that his passion might actually be leading him somewhere.

In year ten, Norm received his first invitation to a maths olympiad training school. At the time, he felt no joy, some pride, and a lot of fear. He imagined being in a room full of ‘freaks’, who lived and breathed the subject, multiplied ten-digit numbers in their heads, and understood everything there was to know about maths. Although that wasn’t the case, the experience was still a shock to the system. He remembers being given a problem about a function in which I multiplied the f by the x in f (x) and got absolutely nowhere!

The olympiad program provided Norm with a steep learning curve that he learned to accept and actually enjoy. Maths became a challenge again and after five immensely enjoyable training schools, he not only made the IMO team, but also lifelong friends. After graduating from the olympiad program, he was unsure of whether he enjoyed the experience because of the mathematical or social aspects. The answer, of course, was that he enjoyed both!

In year eleven, he found out that some of his maths olympiad buddies had signed up for something called the National Mathematics Summer School. Although he felt that he didn’t need more maths in his life, two weeks in another city hanging out with friends sounded fantastic. The experience changed his life, since the NMSS is where he met Denise, who is now his wife. Eighteen years have passed since he first attended the NMSS and it has been his absolute pleasure to have returned as either a tutor or lecturer for most of those intervening years.

After school, Norm enrolled in a Science/Engineering combined degree at Melbourne University. Norm confesses that he was by no means studious and spent a lot of those days engaging in more social pursuits. Whereas he tolerated his engineering subjects, he was fascinated by the world of pure maths. So he went on to complete a PhD, again at Melbourne University, writing his thesis in the area of geometry and topology.

Rather than the usual retail or hospitality jobs that his friends had, Norm took weekly maths enrichment classes at Scotch College, thanks to the invitation of Michael Evans. Not only was this remunerated rather well for a university student, but he really enjoyed working with small groups of talented students. It allowed him to concentrate on the content of teaching, without needing to worry about the mechanics of the classroom.

Meanwhile, he was also becoming quite involved with the activities of the AMOC. It started with lecturing at training schools and led to Norm being the Deputy Leader of the IMO team from 2005 to 2008. Although he is now less involved with the direct training of our olympiad students, he is the Chair of the AMOC Senior Problems Committee and also sits on the AMC Problems Committee. He is also a co-author of the book Problem Solving Tactics, recently published by the AMT, after being conceived in the previous millennium!

After his PhD, and many applications, Norm wound up as a postdoc at McGill University in Montréal. Despite being so far from home, he and Denise had perhaps the most enjoyable, and certainly the coldest, year of their lives. After one year in Canada, he was enticed back to Melbourne University for another postdoctoral position and two years later secured a continuing position at Monash University.

Norm is enjoying his academic career at Monash and has started telling people that, when he retires, it will be from this job. His days are filled with maths research (reading papers, going to seminars, writing papers), teaching (lectures, tutorials, supervising research students), and service (emails‚ lots of emails)!

Norm has undertaken many projects in his life, but is most excited about his current one. Unfortunately, his extensive mathematical training has not prepared him very well for it. The project revolves around a little boy named Sebastien, who is now 2 years old. I’m sure it’s going to be a long and rewarding one!

For his long-standing contribution to the Maths Olympiad program, his contribution to the Senior Problems Committee and his general contributions to Mathematics, Norm is a worthy recipient of the BH Neumann award.

Daniel Mathews

DanielMathews

Daniel has always had a wide range of interests—as much in the abstract beauty of mathematics, as in the deep principles of physics, the mysteries of the human mind, the workings of human society and in what human life can and should be.

However, mathematics is his day job; he is currently at the School of Mathematical Sciences at Monash University and ascribes much of his interest in mathematics to activities in secondary school such as mathematical Olympiads.

His introduction to mathematics proper—as opposed to arithmetic, or mechanical algebra—came early in secondary school. He found that he was good at solving problems, and it was a pleasurable activity. Things click in mathematics; they make sense in an unarguable logical way. Knowing things that were true in an absolute sense gave him strength in making independent judgments: if he could see the reasoning, it didn’t matter what anybody else thought, it was true. Well, until they pointed out his mistake. This kind of intellectual independence, according to Daniel, is essential to democracy.

The mathematical Olympiad program brought adventures, especially intellectual ones. Problems in Olympiad mathematics, often unlike school or even university, require exploration and imagination. A good problem is a universe to explore in itself. Hard problems require, above all, critical thinking. They are a useful training ground for a critical mind.

Sometimes they were not so much a training ground as a wall against which to beat his head, but he broke through sufficiently many walls to make the Australian team for the International Mathematical Olympiad in 1996 and 1997. Both were wonderful experiences. He reports that mathematics with Delhi Belly (actually in Mumbai) is less pleasant than it sounds, and that he led a team of suitably uncouth Aussies in an ‘oi! oi! oi!’ in Argentina.

After graduating from school Daniel went to university, wanting to learn everything, but they only let him enrol in two degrees. He chose science and law; the rules that govern the world and the rules that govern human society. Daniel also got heavily involved on the teaching side of the Olympiad program and the Senior Problems Committee. He was deputy leader of the Australian team from 2002-4. He also managed to get his Masters degree, as well as a Diploma in Modern Languages, then did a PhD overseas, followed by some postdocs. Each new qualification reminding him how little he knew about anything.

Daniel’s fondness for Australia finally caused him to return here in 2012. Now he works at Monash and enjoys it very much, still slightly bemused that people continue to pay him to engage in the most fun activity he knows. Daniel also does some volunteer legal work, though he is happy that he does not have to practise law full time.

Recently Problem Solving Tactics, a book co-written with fellow Olympiad aficionados Angelo Di Pasquale and Norman Do, has been published, a work which took them the best part of 10 years to produce.

Nowadays his research is mainly in geometry and topology, where he finds still more brick walls! Research problems much less often possess a nice or even any solution: they lie in the wilds of unexplored knowledge. Good Olympiad problems have the double advantage of depth, and the possibility that you might be able to solve them.

Daniel often wonders how critical, imaginative, exploratory problem-solving (mathematical and otherwise) can be engaged in by all. In this regard, the Olympiad program remains crucial — with the pleasant side effect of providing an introduction to the beauties of mathematics.

For his long-standing contribution to the Maths Olympiad program, his contribution to the Senior Problems Committee and his general contributions to Mathematics, Daniel is a worthy recipient of the BH Neumann award.