Archive for June, 2010

Words from the past

June 24, 2010

Last night I was reading through some things I wrote a few years back when I stumbled across this sentence:

I wish there was more time in the curriculum to focus on proof, which is the cornerstone of mathematics but tends to get buried between attainment targets and numeracy strategies.

It brought back to me memories of the frustration I felt as I started out in teaching, that so many of the things I wanted to try I felt that I couldn’t because of the pressure to deliver exam results that met targets.  These words were written towards the end of an academic year, after exams, about the joy and delight I felt after a successful lesson on investigation and proof, having recaptured the enthusiasm that drew me into education in the first place, but my longing was for maths teaching to be like this all the time.

Since joining the NRICH team, I have been privileged to meet teachers, departments and schools who are striving to make every lesson like this, and I hope I have contributed in some way by working on developing support materials for teachers wanting to use our resources. The best resource of all in creating confident learners of mathematics with a firm grasp of the importance of mathematical proof is to have confident teachers with the freedom to express their own enthusiasm for maths in the classroom.

On another note, I had a piece of excellent news from a former pupil yesterday; he has achieved a First Class Honours degree in Mathematics. He plans to train to become a maths teacher – I shall be keeping a close eye on him to make sure he uses NRICH resources as often as possible!

Mathemagic

June 3, 2010

I know many mathematicians who enjoy various forms of mathematical recreation – sudoku, mathematical art, solving really hard differential equations for fun… and lots who dabble in mathematical “magic”. There is something that entrances young and old alike when a card trick is performed with verve and showmanship, but there is even more satisfaction in seeing a mathematically based card trick and figuring out how it is done.

I’m preparing for a session working with some Year 10 students in a few weeks. It’s only a short session – 45 minutes or so – and most of my favourite maths tasks take rather longer to get into than that. So a colleague suggested I did some mathematical card magic with them, and suggested the problem The Amazing Card Trick. His idea is that he’ll come in, do the trick, and then leave us to puzzle out how he did the trick – something he’s done with great success working with groups of children in the past.

I wanted to make sure I’d cemented the trick in my mind before trying it out in public with actual youngsters, so after dinner with friends (and a few glasses of wine) at the weekend, I requested a pack of cards and tried it out. My friends loved it, and had the trick figured out (complete with algebra to explain how it worked) in just a few minutes, so I’m hoping that 28 year olds are at least twice as quick as 14 year olds, and the Year 10s need a little longer to puzzle it out. Have a read of the trick as it’s explained on the NRICH site, have a go at it and see if you can figure out how it can be done. And then why not share with me your own favourite pieces of mathematical magic, just in case the Year 10s are smarter than I thought and I have 35 minutes and nothing more than a pack of cards with which to entertain them!