The word ‘mathematics’ is taken from a Greek word meaning knowledge, study, learning. There are a range of views among mathematicians and philosophers as to the exact scope and definition of mathematics but what is for sure is that mathematicians seek out patterns and use them to formulate new conjectures.


Practical mathematics has been a human activity from as far back as written records exist. The research required to solve mathematical problems can take years or even centuries of sustained inquiry but sometimes take only minutes.


Johann Carl Friedrich Gauss was one of the most influential mathematicians in history and was born in 1777 in a small city in Germany. The son of peasant parents (both were illiterate), he developed a staggering number of important ideas and had many more named after him. Many have referred to him as the princeps mathematicorum, or the “prince of mathematics.”


Young Gauss and the Sum of the Natural Numbers


Gauss told the story of a time, when he was a boy, the teacher ran out of stuff to teach and asked them, in the remaining time before playtime, to compute the sum of all the numbers from 1 to 20.


Gauss thought that 1+20 is 21. And 2+19 is also 21. And this is true for all the similar pairs, of which there are 10. So… the answer is 210.


One can wonder what would have happened had the teacher asked for the sum of the numbers from 1 to 19. Perhaps Gauss would have noted that 1+19 is 20, as is 2+18. This is true for all the pairs, of which there are 9, and the number 10 is left on its own. Nine 20’s is 180 and the remaining 10 makes 190.


Or perhaps he would have thought the sum to 20 adds up to 210, and 20 less is 190.


Since starting at Northampton High School, I have had the pleasure of working with some fine mathematicians and I can truly say that all the students I teach are fantastic. Perhaps there is a modern day Gauss amongst them. It is our aim to help students develop a love for mathematics.


This year we have had great success in the National Maths Challenges and for the first time we entered a Sixth Form team into the team challenge. We hope to develop this involvement further in the future. Alexandra Daly again produced a fantastic result in the National Cypher challenge coming 1st in Cypher A.


In addition, we have been looking at the way we track progress and after each assessment students are issued with a list of topics to work on. We encourage the girls to use MyMaths, an interactive online teaching and homework subscription website for schools. Building pupil engagement and consolidating maths knowledge helps to become more confident even if they are not a “Gauss”.


Mr Ball, Head of Maths Faculty