Peter Taylor (1994)

taylorAffiliation at the time of the award: Queen’s University, Mathematics and Statistics.

Citation: Peter did his early work in pure mathematics (convexity) and remained in that area for the first 10 years of his research life. In the mid 1970’s, he became interested in the applications of game theory to animal behaviour, and that led him to the study of evolutionary ecology which is his principal research area today. His interests include the modelling of behaviour in animals and plants in geographically structured populations, with particular focus on the resolution of conflict when the interests of two related individuals differ somewhat (for example, the queen and the workers in an insect colony). In what might appear at first to be an extremely complicated subject, he is continually impressed at the elegance of many of the mathematical results, and at the contribution they can make to our understanding. He is an editor of Evolutionary Ecology Research and an associate editor for the American Naturalist.

Educational Interests

His interests in education are focused on curriculum, both at the senior high school and beginning undergraduate levels. He feels that at its core, the problem of mathematics education is that the curriculum and the resource materials (both!) are conservative and unimaginative, focusing far too much on narrow, systematic technical development. A student with some aesthetic maturity would find most math courses at this level insulting, not because they are too easy (they are often not!) but because they are too pedestrian.

Having said that, he confesses that it is more difficult than it might appear to make significant changes. For him, that is a challenging problem, more difficult (and more important) than most of the work he does in mathematical biology. It requires a fundamental change in the way we understand teaching, a new metaphor. There are elements here of the zen master who knows not to aim at the target, of the artist who understands that he is not a camera.

3M Speaker
My current work in Education is focused at the high school level. The curriculum we have in place in most provinces right now is shamefully boring and technical. We need ideas and problems that involve the students in designing and building things, in taking things apart and putting them back together, designing algorithms, finding optimal strategies. A curriculum of this character can only come about with hours of work with students and the problem is that with tight regulation from Ministries and standard tests, school are reluctant to allow much “experimentation.” My objective is to loosen up the educational environment a bit, give it more room to breathe. Have more sophisticated fun.