On Math, Teaching, and the Magic of Bad Drawings: A Conversation with Ben Orlin

Luke claims he is Allergic to Math (insert me rolling eyes here)…hoping that Ben and his Math with Bad Drawings will be a part of his cure…. a great post if you are battling your kidlings on why math is important as well a reminder that how we look at math defines our experience with it. Ben has a gift of finding the fun within it.

“An error isn’t just a blemish we need to erase: it’s the outward signal of some inner thought process. If I can help a student unpack their own thinking, then they’ll learn to inspect ideas more closely, and absorb them more deeply.”-Ben Orlin


Ben Orlin’s signature stick figures have been (snarkily) explaining mathematical concepts since 2013 at Math with Bad Drawings. By day a math teacher in Birmingham, England, Ben is a voraciously curious, multidisciplinary writer and educator whose work has also been published at The Atlantic, the Los Angeles Times, and Slate.

As a longtime fan of his blog, I wanted to ask Ben about cannibalistic numbers, his passion for teaching, and some of the more egregious uses of math in popular culture — and he was kind enough to respond not only with his sharp words, but also his beloved “bad” drawings.

Ben Orlin photo

All drawings in this interview are courtesy of Ben Orlin.

What is it about math that made you decide to teach it?

When it comes to learning, I’m pretty omnivorous: I’d have happily taught English, history, or social sciences — anything but lab sciences…

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