The day before yesterday I wrote a post entitled “FP1 Multiple Choice Revision Quizzes” where I shared some multiple choice quizzes that I used last year with my FP1 class and marked using the QuickKey app for iOS.

At first I was quite sceptical about how good this scanning app would be when used with actual student responses, but after a few teething problems I have become very impressed with it.

To use QuickKey you need to register for an account and then use one of their answer sheets for students to record their answers to multiple choice questions on. They look like this: Screenshot 2016-02-18 14.08.23

As you can see each question has 5 possible solutions (so bear this in mind when writing your quiz – there is no point in having 6 well thought through possibilities!). Each student fills in their student ID (4 numbers) and shades in the correct ovals – this enables the QuickKey app to work out who’s solutions it is scanning.

QuickKey have produced a useful infographic as a guide to scanning the quizzes which I have pasted below and is available here.Screenshot 2016-02-18 14.18.28

This covers almost all of the issues I had when I first started using the app. Overhead lighting seems especially problematic and scanning definitely works best in natural light. I would personally avoid using pencils and emphasise to your students that they should carefully shade in ALL of the oval corresponding to what they thought was the correct answer – this will eliminate many issues and mean that you don’t spend time manually inputting results.

The app syncs nicely with the online QuickKey account, from where you can download spreadsheets and analyse class performance.

In July 2015 William Emeny (@Maths_Master) posted about a diagnostic test he had performed on his Year 7 cohort which took advantage of QuickKey to quickly obtain responses to 90 questions for all of the cohort. This is a fantastic use of the power of QuickKey and we did this with some of the classes last year. I am hoping to do the same test again this year with our current Year 7s.

I’d encourage everyone to give QuickKey a go if they are ever using multiple choice tests.


Prompted Reflection

Yesterday morning I woke up fairly early with baby Jessica (there was quite a pretty sunrise however) and I read “Modelling in Maths“, a great blog post by Bruno Reddy (@MrReddyMaths). In this post he discusses what he tries to do “consistently with modelling” in his classroom.

This is a pretty short post but it is packed with useful tips on topics as varied as questioning, example design, structuring of class practise and the isolation of tricky steps before putting steps together. I genuinely think this post should be required reading for trainee teachers (and others really) as it prompts so much critical thinking about your own practise.

It has definitely made me think about where I need to improve with consistency. I try to think carefully about the examples I use and how I structure a lesson but recently it has been all too easy to let things get in the way of this. Having a new baby, observation lessons to think about, data points to complete and all the other associated admin that goes with being a teacher have been too much of a distraction really and this does affect the quality of my lessons. For example, with one of my classes we were looking at the quadratic formula and I know that correctly evaluating the discriminant is often a cause of mistakes, but I didn’t practise this independently first. When I have taught this topic before I have done this step separately before using the whole formula in one go and I know this works better. So, for me, there is no excuse for me not having proceeded in this way – I just let my thinking time before the lesson get distracted by other less important things.

I need to fight against this!!


FP1 Multiple Choice Revision Quizzes

Last year I experimented with multiple choice revision quizzes for my Year 12 further mathematics class in the half term before Easter.

I’m not teaching FP1 this year so thought I would make them available for anyone to use. The students seemed surprised at how long it took them to figure out some of the solutions. Each quiz has 5 questions, as shown below, with each question having a choice of 5 answers.

Screenshot 2016-02-16 17.07.48

All  5 quizzes can be downloaded from the links below:

  1. FP1 Quiz 1
  2. FP1 Quiz 2
  3. FP1 Quiz 3
  4. FP1 Quiz 4
  5. FP1 Quiz 5

To mark them I used the QuickKey App which I was actually quite impressed with. Come back tomorrow to read about QuickKey!


A “halfway-ish” Post

I’m a little over halfway with the @staffrm #29daysofwriting challenge

Yesterday I was puzzled to see lots of “Halfway” posts as to me a half of 29 is 14.5 and so surely if we only allow full days halfway would round to day 15… Anyway I liked the idea of answering some of the same questions as everyone else so here are my responses.

Why are you doing the challenge?

Why not?! I quite fancy a mug and last summer I was one of the people to complete the #summerblogchallenge (as was @missnorledge ) so 29 days seemed quite doable, especially with the 29 minute rule

Where and when do you post?

Generally at home once I have done Jessica’s (my daughter) bath and bedtime things.

What have you enjoyed the most about taking part?

I’ve enjoyed having something to motivate me to share ideas and my thoughts – sometimes it can be very hard to find time to do this after a busy day at work. I’ve also enjoyed reading lots of posts about a wide range of subjects that I wouldn’t have necessarily come across on Twitter without coming on staffrm.

What have you least enjoyed about taking part?

I’m not a fan of the simplistic editor provided by staffrm! I’m used to the more sophisticated  editor on my WordPress site where I can include LaTeX, code snippets, use lists etc. Later on in the challenge I may have to resort to handwriting some posts and having my staffrm post consist almost entirely of pictures, or have the staffrm post just provide a link to the post on my own website.

Have you picked up any ideas?

I wouldn’t say I have picked up any concrete ideas but many posts (especially ones by @missnorledge , @mrbenward , @towens , @becskar ) have been thought provoking and given me lots to think about.


Happy Valentines

Only a very short post today as it is Valentines day and I want to devote my time to my family.

I have put up on my website a Geogebra file that allows you to view 2 heart-shaped parametric curves. Which do you prefer?

The original Geogebra file is also available for download here.

Screenshot 2016-02-14 19.44.23

Desmos have also produced some cool Math-o-grams including this very cool heart inspired Sierpinski triangle! I particularly like that you can see the underlying equations.Screenshot 2016-02-14 19.49.30

A Level Software Teaching

An Experimental Lesson

Since visiting The De Ferrers Academy a few years ago I have thought about trying to create a video using ExplainEverything. This half term was my school’s “Take a Risk” observation window. We have one of these every year and I think it’s quite a good idea as the outcome of the observation doesn’t count formally so it does encourage taking a bit more of a risk with the lesson.

For mine this time I was being observed with my Year 13 further mathematicians and we were going to be starting to look at the FP3 conic sections stuff.

My plan was to produce a video introducing the Ellipse using ExplainEverything and then provide some questions for the students to work through without any help from me.

Here is the video:

As you can see the video bears a few hallmarks from it being created at 2am and there are some things that I don’t think I explained terribly well in a mathematical sense. However, it seemed to serve its purpose well and my students were able to tackle the questions that I had given them, such as this one

Screenshot 2016-02-13 16.31.40

I had two versions of the questions; one with more intermediate steps to guide students through the question. Thanks to Stuart (@sxpmaths) for the picture of the ellipse I used in the questions, it saved me from drawing my own.

Before the lesson my students also had access to the two Geogebra applets featured in the video, that I created and hosted on my website. The first allowed students to explore the parametrisation of the ellipse and investigate the foci property of an ellipse.Screenshot 2016-02-13 16.43.32

The second demonstrated one method of constructing an ellipse (without equations) known as the Trammel Construction.Screenshot 2016-02-13 16.45.09

I’ve put all the worksheets on my website and they are available as follows:

Feel free to use them if you wish.

PS:- In case you are interested, I got very good feedback for this lesson 🙂


Another IMA Session – Richard Lissaman

In December last year I had a review of the MEI/Sigma Network’s game published in the IMA magazine Mathematics Today. I later published an expanded review on my blog in December. Check it out if you haven’t already. 

Richard started  by talking about himself and saying that his first experience with computers was when he was bought a ZX81 for Christmas in 1982. As an aside my first experience with computers was on a BBC Micro at primary school. Richard explained how programming increased his enjoyment of mathematics – an experience that certainly resonates with me. 

Richard completed a PhD at Warwick and after lecturing for a while became involved with the Further Maths Support Programme, before in 2014 taking a job at MEI developing online resources for teaching and learning maths.

There are many great reasons why games are good medium for learning mathematics, Richard highlighted that when gaming you expect to make mistakes and it creates a non-threatening environment for students to try things out. He also highlighted the reasons shown below: 

 What does a good maths game look like?! Richard’s criteria are these

  • Encourage students to practise lots of examples
  • Provide a representation of mathematical problems in a more accessible way.
  • Have a mechanic which has a “physical” connection to the mathematical idea.
  • Give players lots of choice about what they can do at any given moment.

If you look on the App Store the vast majority of maths games fall into the first category, promoting practise of key skills such as multiplication facts, basic numeracy etc. 

I hadn’t seen Keith Devlin’s game Wuzzit Trouble before (even though I had heard about it) – I feel that I need to investigate this some more now. Richard also completed a secondment developing some games as a consultant to Manga High and he discussed some of the games he helped develop while there including Ice Ice Maybe and Algebra Meltdown – again Manga High is something I really should explore more..

It was fascinating to hear about the development of Sumaze and how it developed out of this initial idea which Richard felt didn’t have enough variety as a game: 

 Following this he began to consider the idea of moving through squares to get to a target value as a way of teaching something, specifically he looked at developing some of the ideas that led to the logarithm levels in the online version of Sumaze.

The Sigma network then funded the production of a web-based version covering more mathematical topics and for an App version. To develop the app a maths startup company MathsCraft was engaged to provide the graphics, sound and menu version. 

I hadn’t thought too much about the game mechanics before so it was nice to be told a bit more about that. Specifically only nested expressions with only one variable are permitted and so the game can’t test things such as \(x^3+6x\) or \(log(xy) = log(x)+log(y)\). Richard explained that the decision was made to not include things like memory blocks or multiple blocks which would have allowed this kind of thing as it would detract from the gameplay. I think this was probably the right decision – the inclusion of these would have made the game seem a lot harder to play, and probably not add too much in terms of mathematics. 

Richard then talked about the mathematics underlying a couple of the levels:

Negatives 13 -Gridlock Here, if you think mathematically you need to find the fixed point of the function \(f(x) = -3(x+12)\) to get the correct value once you have passed through all the modifier blocks. I certainly hadn’t thought of it like this when I played this level.  

 Powers 10 – Binary Finery Here the level is asking you to find the binary representation of 61. 
As of 8th February 2016 Sumaze has had over 17,000 downloads since the 20th October and another version dealing with lower level numeracy topics is planned.

There was a very good question about the game mechanic versus the conventional order of operations. For example the operations are applied consecutively and don’t follow the conventional rules, for example in Sumaze 3 + 2 multiplied by 3 would give 15 as opposed to 9. I, like Richard hadn’t considered this before as I had seen the blocks as functions that are applied to an input but I guess this could be an issue for students. What do you think? 


The Fifth #mathsjournalclub Article

Some people on staffrm may not know that I host the #mathsjournalclub discussions on Twitter. In these some of us discuss a research paper (normally chosen by an open public poll) on a mathematics education topic. The summaries of the discussions of three recent discussions are available here (I still have one to put online!):

With one thing and another I didn’t get a poll up to choose the next article – I’m really sorry about this and this way of choosing articles will return so please send me any recommendations, ensuring that they are open access and not behind paywalls.

However, I don’t want to go too long without having a #mathsjournalclub chat and so I have picked an article that i think everyone will enjoy reading. The first page is shown belowScreenshot 2016-02-10 19.16.59

The article is by John Mason, Hélia Oliviera and Ana Maria Boavida and entitled “Reasoning Reasonably in Mathematics“. In this article they discuss some student responses to the Magic Square task, for example the one shown hereScreenshot 2016-02-10 19.16.37

I found this article fascinating, especially after seeing John Mason speak towards the end of last year, and I am sure you will too.

I propose that we chat about this on Monday the 11th April at 8pm which is the usual time. I very much hope that you can join me.

The discussion after that will be based on an article that has been voted for 🙂


Some Pancake Sorting

As it is Shrove Tuesday I thought I would briefly introduce the computer science problem of pancake sorting, which incidentally is the subject of Microsoft’s Bill Gates’ only (I believe this to be true anyway) academic paper. If you are interested, this paper is available online and is relatively accessible for an academic paper.

I first came across this problem in 2014 when Simon Singh published an article in the Guardian – as Simon Singh another famous person, David S Cohen, a co-creator of Futurama also has a published paper on a harder varied of the problem known as the “Burnt Pancake Problem

I guess, I should probably describe the problem now…. In it’s traditional form, it was stated by the original proposer of the problem, the mathematician Jacob Goodman (writing under a pseudonym at the time) as follows:

“The chef in our place is sloppy, and when he prepares a stack of pancakes they come out all different sizes. Therefore, when I deliver them to a customer, on the way to the table I rearrange them (so that the smallest winds up on top, and so on, down to the largest at the bottom) by grabbing several from the top and flipping them over, repeating this (varying the number I flip) as many times as necessary. If there are n pancakes, what is the maximum number of flips (as a function of n) that I will ever have to use to rearrange them?”

This is one of those classic problems that is deceptively easy to state but very hard to solve – in fact Wikipedia tells me that last year a team of scientists determined the minimal number of flips required was proved to be NP complete but i haven’t read that paper yet.

Conceptually some rough estimates on the upper bound for the number of flips required for flipping n pancakes are quite easy to arrive at – e.g. it can not require than 2n flips. I think it would be fun to talk about this with a school class – I certainly wish I had thought about it earlier today and spoken to my A-Level class about it.

A Level Teaching

A Normal Distribution Card Sort

Today I delivered my session on Core Maths which was part of my gap task for the NCETM Level 3 PD Lead course that I am doing. As part of the session we were looking at the normal distribution and the style of exam questions about this topic on the AQA Level 3 Mathematical Studies qualification assessments.

One of the teaching aids that the groups discussed was a card sort on the normal distribution, which is available on my website here and previewed below. Screenshot 2016-02-08 21.56.16

We talked about how to differentiate the activity (both up and down) and how to use it in relation with other teaching approaches etc.

Feel free to use it, some of the calculation cards do not necessarily show the clearest or most efficient method of working out the answer – this is because they are intended as discussion points.

Any comments gratefully received.