341. Dragon Bridge

Here is a little starter picture for you:

This is the ‘Pont y Ddraig’ at the marina in Rhyl, in North Wales. What mathematical questions could be inspired by this?

‘Pont y Ddraig’ means Dragon Bridge. Find out more about the bridge here

340. SUVAT dilemma

If you’ve been a regular reader of this blog you may remember a post in 2014 advocating the use Duck Tape to help with practical investigations. The post was: http://mathssandpit.co.uk/blog/?p=1585

I’ve recently reused the mechanics activity with a new class of Year 12 students. They had only just started mechanics and were familiar with models and suvat equations. We timed four different objects being dropped, under gravity, down a stairwell. The items had a variety of masses: a paper helicopter, a light plastic ball, a small sponge and a dense juggling ball. We meticulously timed each drop and double checked the height.

I asked the students to work out the velocity of each object on impact with the ground. It was akin to lighting the blue touch paper and standing back …

They are a competitive bunch and raced ahead to use the correct suvat equations to calculate the velocity. Then the fireworks started!

Part of the class insisted that the juggling ball must have the highest velocity. Part of the class insisted the velocities were the same for all of the objects. The rest were catching up and wondering what all the discussion was about. I innocently gathered their ideas on the board and asked them what was going on. Those who had used initial velocity, time & distance to find the final velocity had differing answers for each object. Those who had used initial velocity, distance and acceleration had a consistent answer.

Suddenly a hand shot up and said “Because we model objects as particles, their mass doesn’t matter so we can’t use the times”. This was followed by assorted groans from the class – especially those who’d used the individual times of the objects.

The variation of the original activity was to emphasise prior learning on setting up mathematical models for solving mechanics problems. Objective achieved!

(Obviously later in the course we’ll look at the impact of mass on mechanical models, but this was early days)

339. Broken rotation

This is a quick post following a discussion in the office today. The prompt was a colleague asking “How do you teach rotation to a child with two broken arms?”

The last ‘child’ I taught with two broken arms was a sixth former and it involved profuse photocopying of notes.

But back to the problem. You could cut out shapes and rotate them on a gridded whiteboard. The student could get a feel for what was going on and be part of the whiteboard Q& A session. For the main classwork, photocopy the worksheet or textbook and increase it to A3. Make a second colour copy and cut out the shapes in the questions. The student can then move these into the correct places to answer the questions. The work could then be photographed, emailled to the teacher or printed out.

Of course I do mean use a phone to take a picture, because it’ll take more than two broken arms to stop a teenager using their mobile phone.

(BTW I’m not making light of the student’s problem. It’s important we think around these issues to ensure all students can access the curriculum)

338. Grappling with graphs

Have you noticed that textbooks are okay with graphs, until you need some interpreting graphs questions?

Image Credit: trustedreviews

I thought that mobile phone tariffs would be a good starting point for comparing fixed charges and rates. Using the iPhone X as a starting point, I’ve put together a discussion starter and couple of additional questions. All the tariffs are actual offers available at the time of writing.

You could start by looking at the graph and asking students what they notice, you could give them the tariffs and ask them to generate graphs or you could give them the data and ask them to plot the graph and derive the tariffs. It’s up to you!

The graph is deliberately vague so that students can discuss trends without getting obsessed by the detail of the numbers. Everything is downloadable below.

iphone X tariff graph

Iphone X mini investigation

Interpreting graphs


337. Surreal symmetry

I stumbled across this splendid website and Instagram feed through an article in ‘The Guardian’ newspaper:
Accidentally Wes Anderson
The site owner has collected together images of buildings that look like they could be in a Wes Anderson film.

Image Credit: #accidentallywesanderson

The result is a stunning collection of images of symmetrical architecture from around the world. The photos could be used as a starting point for a discussion on symmetry, shape or the mathematics of the world around us.

336. Geometry Snacks

If you are looking for a very last minute gift for that special Mathematician in your life, or you have Christmas money to spend, may I recommend “Geometry Snacks” by Ed Southall (@solvemymaths) and Vincent Pantaloni (@panlepan)?

It is a nearly pocket sized book of geometry puzzles whose construct of simple, elegant problems can decieve the unwary into thinking the solutions are easy. This is a book for those who embrace mathematical rigour, rather than repetitious guesswork.

In fact, forget buying it for someone else – get one just for yourself!

Geometry Snacks is published by Tarquin (ISBN: 9 781911 093701)

335. The power of colour

As Mathematicians we appreciate the importance of getting the basics right and building a firm foundation. With this in mind I’ve been an absolute harridan with my Y8 students regarding presentation and technique for solving equations. If they can nail good algebraic presentation now, their future studies will be be much easier.

When we started there were students doing everything in their head, not always correctly. Some insisted on working backwards, which is great for basic cases but not for unknowns on both sides. Most frustratingly some students were breaking up the logic by putting extra working out between steps and losing track of what they were doing.

For example:

2x – 10 = 5x + 8

5x – 2x = 3x

3x – 10 = 8

So we had a really good discussion about logical presentation. We decided to write down what we were doing in the margin, try and keep the = sign lined up in the working and put any extra working out on the right.

This worked really well for most of the class, but I had a small group of students who just lost track of what they were doing and why. They knew things had to balance, but struggled to cope with equations with an unknown on both sides.

While I was talking things over with them using a mini whiteboard, I noticed they had a profusion of coloured pens and highlighters. Bring on the colour!

By highlighting the key point of each line of algebra and matching it with the balancing step they started to build the structure of good solutions. It was slow work to start with, but a couple of lessons later and these same struggling students are now hitting the extension work every time. And most of them no longer feel the need to highlight key information.