PIMS Summer Public Lecture: John Mighton

Speaker: John Mighton

Date: Thu, Aug 6, 2020

Location: Zoom

Conference: Diversity in Math Summer School

Subject: Mathematics

Class: Scientific


Math provides us with mental tools of incredible power. When we learn math we learn to see patterns, to think logically and systematically, to draw analogies, to perceive risk, to understand cause and effect--among many other critical skills.

Yet we tolerate and in fact expect a vast performance gap in math among students and live in a world where many adults aren't equipped with these crucial tools. This learning gap is unnecessary, dangerous and tragic, and it has led us to a problem of intellectual poverty which is apparent everywhere--in fake news, political turmoil, floundering economies, even in erroneous medical diagnoses.

The study of math is an ideal starting point to break down social inequality and empower individuals to build a smarter, kinder, more equitable world. In this talk Mighton will share his vision for a numerate society for all, not just a chosen few.

Speaker Biography

Dr. John Mighton is a playwright turned mathematician and author who founded JUMP Math as a charity in 2001. His work in fostering numeracy and in building children's self-confidence through success in math has been widely recognized. He has been named a Schwab Foundation Social Entrepreneur of the Year, an Ernst & Young Social Entrepreneur of the Year for Canada, an Ashoka Fellow, an Officer of the Order of Canada, and has received five honorary doctorates. John is also the recipient of the 10th Annual Egerton Ryerson Award for Dedication to Public Education.

John developed JUMP Math to address both the tragedy of low expectations for students and that of math anxiety in teachers. John began tutoring children in math as a financially-struggling playwright, and his success in helping students achieve levels of success that teachers and parents had thought impossible fueled his belief that everyone has great untapped potential.

The experience of repeatedly witnessing the heart-breaking paradox of high potential and low achievement led him to conclude that the widely-held assumption that mathematical talent is a rare genetic gift has created a self-fulfilling prophecy of low achievement. A generally high level of math anxiety among many elementary school teachers, itself an outcome of that belief system, creates an additional challenge.
John had to overcome his own "massive math anxiety" before making the decision to earn a Ph.D. in Mathematics at the University of Toronto. He was later awarded an NSERC Fellowship for postdoctoral research in knot and graph theory. He is currently a Fellow of the Fields Institute for Research in Mathematical Sciences and has taught mathematics at the University of Toronto. He has also lectured in philosophy at McMaster University, where he received a master’s degree in philosophy.

His plays have been performed around the world and he is the recipient of several national awards for theatre, including two Governor General’s Awards. He played the role of Tom in the film Good Will Hunting.