William The Maths Bear's Paws For Thought Winter 2018

3rd December 2017

Hello Tiny Humans! 

Yes, it's true, we have won a BETT Award! You are now looking at the bear ambassador for the winner of the 'Best Education Support Resource for Parents or Home Learning' 2018! We are delighted and proud to be among such a prestigious group of winners, past and present. We just have to decide where in ConquerMaths HQ we will display the award! Check out the rest of our photos, videos and the lovely things the judges and press said about us here.

Anyway! I hope everyone enjoyed the Christmas break – whether you celebrate Christmas or not it’s always nice to have a holiday, especially if the weather isn’t so good. I hope you took advantage of the chance to catch up with family and take a breather before commencing with the New Year.

I visited my family from the Arctic Circle but I must confess I nearly made an embaressing mistake and Tweeted that it was only 104 miles away when actually I had to travel at least 1040 miles!.

Did my fur have egg on it!

This is not, however, anywhere near as bad a numerical error as the viral clanger dropped by an unfortunate Kenyan man recently. The Gentleman claims to be a professor but I doubt very much that he is. I will not list his name/Twitter handle here as I have scrolled through the rest of his feed and not everything he has Tweeted is 100% family friendly. I also saw the thousands of responses roundly denouncing his incredibly faulty maths – so faulty in fact that we are left wondering if he did it on purpose just to get a rise out of people!

The hapless gent lives in Kenya and was commenting on a recent bank robbery, during which thieves made off with 50 million Kenyan Shillings from Kenya Commercial Bank (KCB) Thika branch.

Subsequently the professor seems to have come up with a novel way of solving the nation’s financial woes. Here comes the Tweet…

“50M, stolen from KCB Thika. We are 45 millions and if the thieves decide to give each Kenyan 1 million, they will still remain with solid 5 millions.”

Spot the glaring deliberate error? Of course, in reality if the thieves for some reason decided to go all Robin Hood and give their ill gotten gains to the poor they would only be able to give 45 individual Kenyans a million shillings each and still have 5 solid “millions” left over, not, obviously 45 million Kenyans a million shillings each!

You’d think this was a one off mistake, or indeed a prank but you would be surprised, there have been several similar errors posted online over the years. It is worrying but there you are. Let’s hope someone explained to him exactly where he went wrong, or perhaps we should offer him a subscription to ConquerMaths.

Travelling Bees

It seems that Bumblebees are even more impressive creatures than we thought, and actually have a sophisticated sense of space, maths and navigation. At the Rothamsted Research institute in Harpenden, Hertfordshire researchers wanted to test the Travelling Salesman problem on the insects.

This is an old mathemtical  problem which asks “Given a list of cities and the distances between each pair of cities, what is the shortest possible route that a salesman can visit each city and return to the original city?”. It is an important problem in computer science and essentially looks for the most efficient and logical route through a system.

An example of the 'Travelling Salesman' Problem

They wanted to see if they could tempt the bees with shortcuts between artificial feeding station flowers that would ultimately, if taken, result in longer and more tiring journeys overall. At first the bees seemed to be fooled but after a while they learnt and began modifying their journey plans until they came up with a more effective “travelling salesman” solution.

In case you’re wondering how they tracked the bees, turns out they attached miniature transponders to their backs and tracked them using radar – aww.

This learning behaviour is impressive; lead researcher Dr Joe Woodgate, from Queen Mary University of London explains that “Animals cannot inspect a map to find out where the best food sources are or plan how to get to them; instead, they must explore the landscape, discovering locations one by one, and then they face the challenge of integrating their spatial memories into an efficient route.

“Only by following the flight paths of bees as they explore and try to generate better routes can we start to truly understand how animals solve route optimisation problems.”

These findings could have implications for our future development of artificial intelligence (AI) and advanced robots, but could also help agriculturists understand how best to assist pollination processes and combat the adverse effects of habitat loss and intensive farming. This could help reduce world hunger and improve the general state of the planet, so well done bees!

Till next time tiny humans!