Fok-Shuen Leung


Fok-Shuen Leung obtained his doctoral degree in Mathematics from the University of Oxford. He is Professor of Teaching and Undergraduate Chair of the Mathematics Department, winner of the Canadian Mathematical Society Excellence in Teaching Award and the Pacific Insitute for the Mathematical Sciences Education Prize, and two-time winner of the Killam Teaching Prize.

As an instructor, my guiding principle is that “big ideas matter”. Basic skills are indispensable: math is technical, and calculations are crucial. But I believe that students of all levels acquire and retain these skills more eagerly if they can see the outline of a big idea behind them. How can we predict the carrying capacity of the Earth by looking at the population growth rate now? What do prime numbers have to do with the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter? A big question, presented carefully, is a tempting challenge to a student.

A key tool I use to challenge students in this way is the small-class model I began developing in 2014. This model emphasizes cooperative, collaborative problem solving: students spend a minority of class time in faculty-led large lectures, and the majority in TA-run “small classes”, solving sequences of scaffolded problems that lead to big ideas and introduce crucial basic skills on the way.

As a mentor, my guiding principle to new instructors is that “your ideas matter”. Certain fundamentals underlie all good teaching, but what makes teaching excellent is highly diverse. One accomplishment in this area is the design of a comprehensive instructor training suite for all mathematics graduate students at UBC. For graduate students who wish to teach, the suite includes a mandatory, credit-bearing course with a practicum component, the only one of its kind in Canada.

Finally, as an educational innovator, my guiding principle is that “ideas need space”. Good programs make it easier for instructors to be guided by their own teaching philosophies.

Students and Postdocs