Archive for November, 2009

stemNRICH – where were you?

November 30, 2009

In recent weeks, I’ve been spending quite a bit of time working on the stemNRICH site with my colleague Steve Hewson. If you haven’t already seen stemNRICH, it’s a collection of mathematical science resources. In order to think about how teachers might use these problems in the classroom, I have had to sit down and solve them for myself, and this has caused me to reflect a lot on my own experiences studying maths and sciences at school.

For a start, I have had to refresh my very rusty knowledge for a lot of these problems – although I am the youngest member of the NRICH team it is already ten years since I did A Level physics (where does the time go?) But on top of that, these problems are not at all what I remember doing as a sixth former – the problems Steve has created for stemNRICH are much more open and lend themselves to discussion. Many of them require some intuition and consideration of real-world application of the mathematics in order to find a route to a solution, and to start with, the problems took me out of my comfort zone.

But the more I worked through them, the more I found myself wishing that there had been more resources like this available when I was at school. I was being challenged to put my mathematics into context, which would have been the perfect preparation for university-level applied maths. I hope that the Teachers’ Notes I have written to accompany some of Steve’s problems will aid teachers who wish to use these resources in the classroom, because I feel they’ll really help aspiring mathematicians, scientists and engineers to think about the applications of mathematics and gain some intuition about how maths works in the Real World!


The reason I get up in the mornings

November 17, 2009

This term, I have been leading the sessions at the Enriching Mathematics Project in Tower Hamlets. These sessions are for two hours on Wednesday evenings from 4-6pm, for a group of Year 8 pupils from local schools. We have been working together on a variety of NRICH problems, and I have deliberately seated the pupils in groups of four each week, two from one school and two from another. To start with, pupils were very reluctant to talk to the pair from the other school, but after four weeks they are beginning to open up a lot more and are much more comfortable talking about their maths to people they don’t know.

Last week I did a feedback activity with them where I asked them to write anonymously on a post-it note what they had learned so far, and what they thought they would remember about the project after it was over. I was amazed by how reflective they were:

“One thing I will remember about this course is the two guys with the lamp and only one light crossing the bridge, as it shows that everyone thought it would be the first answer they got but they had to look harder.”

This was in response to the problem Crossing the Bridge which was one of the first tasks we tried together. Quite a few pupils referred to this idea about having to look deeper into the problem than the first answer you find – what more could I ask for?

Having had lots of complaints about not being allowed to sit with their friends from their own schools, I was cheered by these comments:

  • I learned how to work as a group and communicate with different people
  • I learned to be more confident when openly explaining methods and tactics
  • Working effectively in a group of people you don’t know

For many people, maths is seen as being a solitary affair, yet when I go out of my office and see mathematicians at work, I see conversation and collaboration everywhere. I’m so glad that so many of these children are already seeing the importance of discussing maths, sharing ideas, and working with others on problems.

For me, though, the best thing about working with these young people is the freedom I have. Without the constraints of a curriculum, a scheme of work, an exam specification, we’ve been able to work on some pretty diverse topics and get deeply involved in the mathematics. Wouldn’t it be nice if the removal of the Key Stage 3 tests gave teachers more freedom to do the same sort of thing in their classrooms, instead of being under pressure to start GCSEs a year earlier…

My first NRICH blog post

November 10, 2009

This blog will be a place for me to share the work I’ve been doing with NRICH. I hope to share ideas about problems I’ve been working on as well as information about sessions I’ve led with teachers and pupils using NRICH resources. I’ll also share more general thoughts on maths educational issues. Hope you enjoy reading my witterings!