Brief History of the Sheffield Pop Maths Quiz




In 1996 a group of mathematicians from the Sheffield branch of the Mathematical Association and the two universities decided to re-launch a maths quiz.


The previous quiz had been a bit dry, and also very time consuming from an organisational point of view. We therefore decided to opt for a more social angle and go for the ‘pub style’ quiz on the basis of



It was agreed that if ordinary people enjoy the pub quiz, why should schoolchildren not enjoy a pop maths quiz? We also had strong links with some local schools since some of their teachers had trained at the Department of Mathematical Education at Sheffield Hallam University.


Eventually we decided to hold our initial quiz during SET week and booked an attractive area in the Atrium at Sheffield Hallam University. A letter was sent out to local schools for the first quiz in 1996 with a response of 22 teams entering the first year followed by 55 and 100 teams in the two consecutive years. We are up to 120 so far this year.


This extraordinary success is due to a number of factors -


1. Maths is losing its ‘nerd’ image.


2. The quiz itself is fun.


3. Individual and group puzzles provide entertainment before the quiz and after.


4. The popular maths lecture has been just that - popular.

For the last two years Colin Wright has given a talk on the mathematics of juggling.


5. We have had important support from all the local education authorities who distribute our letter advertising the quiz. (Apart from Derbyshire for some reason.)

Vital financial support has been given from the Sheffield TEC, the Sheffield Education Business Partnership and Blackwells, along with the offer of sponsorship from a local newspaper.



Our Format


9.00 am The organisers and helpers distribute posters indicating where to go. Place team names on tables.


10.00 am Individuals start arriving (we ask them to arrive at 10.30 - 11.00.) They are given collective and individual puzzles. A drink is also provided. Helpers show teams where their place is.


11.00 am The quiz starts. We operate this on two sites - the Atrium holds three age groups and the Main Hall with the 11-14 age group (the largest number of teams).

In the Atrium the questions are read out by three different people so that age groups easily recognise the questions intended for them.


11.25 am* We have a brief pause so that we can repeat questions that

they did not hear/understand.


11.30 am* The quiz restarts.


12.00 noon* The quiz ends. The budding mathematicians fill in answer sheets twice. One to hand in and the other they keep.


12.10 - Answers are read out. Teams claiming most marks have

12.30 pm answer sheet checked. A run off is organised if necessary.


12.30 pm Presentation of cups for winning teams.

Presentation of individual plaques and book tokens for members of winning teams.


1.00 pm Popular lecture. This year we are having the Mathematics of Magic with Mike Wardle.


What you need


1. Three or four people, including one from a local college or university and one from a teacher training centre.


2. Book a sizeable, pleasant venue


3. Set a date a long way in advance. Ask Local Education Authority to distribute invitations to schools to participate.


4. Get the team to write interesting entertaining questions. We aim for 10 out of the 20 questions to be easy, 5 more difficult and 5 very difficult. The idea is that everyone has fun, no-one is humiliated but we do get winners.


5. Write asking for sponsorships: money for puzzles, drinks, lecture, cups, banners, etc can make all the difference between a tolerable quiz and a really entertaining one.

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