Leading Korean Mathematician Advises: Read Novels, Watch Movies
The prominent Korean mathematician Hwang Jun-muk -- interviewed by Oh Kyu-wook -- offers some unusual advice in "Mathematicians must be storytellers" (Korea Herald, August 28, 2013):
A good mathematician requires not only techniques but also creativity . . . . [Hwang Jun-muk] perhaps inherited his creative side from his parents. His father is traditional Korean music composer and "gayageum" master Hwang Byung-ki and his mother is one of the country's leading authors, Han Mal-sook.Why such advice?
"Thanks to my parents, I read a lot of books at home in my childhood. That may help me now when I present my ideas to others."
"I had a chance to talk to high school students, and I told them read novels as well as watch movies a lot to practice and improve their skills to present their ideas well in a simple and interesting way . . . . [This is] important to be a good mathematician," he added.
The ability to tell stories is needed among mathematicians in Korea where the subject is still deemed boring and learned by rote, said the nation's top academic in the field.Mathematics taught through stories! That's an unexpected reply to my query! Here's the crux of the problem:
Korean students are among the top performers in international mathematics contests, but they lag far behind in terms of interest and passion, which may account for the relatively modest performances by professional Korean researchers in the world . . . . "When I prepare for a presentation, I think hard to put my ideas into a good, interesting story. If you put all mathematical proofs just in order and present it to your audience, it will be extremely boring . . . . Korean mathematicians have good techniques and knowledge and made progress in research, but they are still not good at making a story (in comparison to Western powerhouses for advanced mathematics)."
A key stumbling block is the current educational curriculum, which has traditionally emphasized only problem-solving techniques. Also, many Korean mathematicians do not learn how to present their ideas.In short, Hwang says that the Korean pedagogical system does not encourage creativity and the inspiration that comes with good teaching, and that means, even for mathematicians, telling stories. Is he right? Well, he surely knows more about this than I do.
But I wish the article had given an example of a story Hwang might use to teach mathematics . . .