Home > #MTBoS, Maths, Resources, Teaching > Vectors, Despicable Me and Other Stories

Vectors, Despicable Me and Other Stories

This week I have been teaching my year 13s about vectors. It had been a while since they had met vectors, so I asked what they remembered about them and one said: “direction and magnitude, they have direction and magnitude. That’s why vector on despicable me chose his name, because he’s committing crime with direction and magnitude!” See this clip.

I had seen the film before, but a few years ago and I had completely forgotten about this character! It is certainly a clip I will share with students in future! (Along with this classic.)

Videos like these are funny and memorable, and can help to embed the knowledge of vectors into the minds of pupils, thus enabling them to recall the knowledge better in an exam. There is plenty of debate around gimmicks and teaching methods. Whether one should be trying to teach or to entertain, but I don’t see why you can’t do both, as long as the entertainment adds to, rather than detracts from, the learning. And videos like this work better than any mnemonic for embedding knowledge and ideas into the teenage memory banks.

The world of entertainment certainly seems to have strong links to maths, the Simpsons and Futurama have for years included maths, which is cool in itself and I think should give plenty of things to use in lessons. Dr Who has plenty of maths, including happy primes and Fermat’s last theorem. The Big Bang Theory is, quite unsurprisingly, the show which keeps on giving, from Thursdays episode which included the mechanics of cow tipping, through topological problems like which cinema to go to to modelling examples, like when Sheldon extrapolated data on Penny’s serial history while on his first date with Amy.

Perhaps more surpringly is the fact that Disney snuck pi into Mary Poppins and there is clearly a maths enthusiast at Universal Pictures who worked on Despicable Me to include the vector character. Even preschool shows are at it! Peppa pig has reference to the quadratic equation and Ben and Holly’s wise old elf uses the golden ratio! Do let me know if you spot any more.


The mechanics of cow tipping.


The quadratic formula at Daddy Pig’s office, the discriminant is in yellow.

  1. February 15, 2014 at 10:25 pm

    I saw this episode of Peppa Pig
    Futurama has many math-y references!

    • February 15, 2014 at 10:27 pm

      Aye, there are tons in Futurama and the Simpsons. Have you read Simon Singhs book? https://cavmaths.wordpress.com/2014/01/13/a-book-review-the-simpsons-and-their-mathematical-secrets/

      • February 15, 2014 at 10:31 pm

        Not yet! I’m about to put it on order! I’ve always loved Futurama. I didn’t realize that the Simpsons had any mathematical secrets. Thanks for the book suggestion!

      • February 15, 2014 at 10:33 pm

        It’s superb, and the Futurama bits are too!

      • February 15, 2014 at 10:37 pm

        On the DVD for the Futurama movie, there is a bonus on some of the mathematical scenes – very interesting!

      • February 15, 2014 at 10:45 pm

        I may have to invest in that!

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