Ask Uncle Colin: Should I Interrupt?

Ask Uncle Colin is a chance to ask your burning, possibly embarrassing, maths questions -- and to show off your skills at coming up with clever acronyms. Send your questions to and Uncle Colin will do what he can.

Dear Uncle Colin,

Sometimes, my professors write wrong things on the board, and I'm never sure whether to correct them. On one hand, I feel like I should respect them and their work; on the other, if I say nothing, I worry that my classmates are getting bad information. What should I do?

- Lecturers And Professors Losing Accuracy Copying Expressions

Hi, LAPLACE! Good question - and an easy one, for a change: if you see something you think is wrong, say something.

Either you've misunderstood something - in which case, it's unlikely you're the only one - or the lecturer has made a mistake - in which case, it's unlikely everyone has spotted it. In either case, the lecturer needs to put something right, whether it's explaining the step more clearly or putting right their error.

It can be hard to know how exactly to speak up - as you say, respect in a classroom is important, and shyness can be a major factor (I certainly wasn't the kind of student who'd yell out); having a stock phrase you can just blurt out without thinking is a good idea. I'd pick something like "Excuse me, I don't quite follow that step, would you mind going over it in a bit more detail?" (possibly followed by "I got -4 rather than 4" or similar.)

Respect in the classroom goes both ways. If lecturers respect the students, they will welcome genuine interruptions aimed at clarifying their teachings.

Good luck!

- Uncle Colin


Colin is a Weymouth maths tutor, author of several Maths For Dummies books and A-level maths guides. He started Flying Colours Maths in 2008. He lives with an espresso pot and nothing to prove.


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