Category Archives: A-Level

357. It’s not square!

I do love a little challenge for A-level Further Maths students. They are often confident and very capable mathematicians, but occasionally overlook the small details. This challenge looks into which strategies students use when working with 3D vectors, lines and angles.

The most annoying thing? There is no single correct answer.

What is the investigation?

Students start with two points, create a line, construct two perpendicular lines and then join up the lines – did they create a square? How do you know? Justify it?

Download the instructions here: It’s not square (docx), It’s not square (PDF)

Skills required

  • Distance between two points
  • Equation of a line in three dimensions
  • Scalar (dot) product

Solution/Discussion point

  • Students need to use the same direction vector for both perpendicular lines too create a square
  • The two new corners need to be n the same direction away from the original line (not one above and one below)
  • It’s interesting to discuss what non-squares they made. Technology could be used to plot them in 3D.

356. Edexcel Shadow Paper

Wow, it’s been a while since my last post. Apologies for that. I’ve been busy with Key Stage 5 things. One of my projects has been creating a shadow paper for the Edexcel AS Maths exam. With so few past papers available and so many papers available online, I wanted an assessment that my students couldn’t find the mark scheme for.

I’ve taken the AS Pure 2018 paper and created a shadow paper, with markscheme. Same level of difficulty, different numbers. I publicised it on Twitter and shared it with over ninety educators in 48 hours. I was stunned by the popularity of this resource. To keep it secure, the lovely Graham Cummings from @mathsemporium has arranged for it to be uploaded onto the Edexcel Maths Emporium. Now I don’t have to directly email people the files.

You can access it with an Edexcel teacher login here. If you don’t have a login, there are instructions on the page on how to obtain one.

I hope this paper saves you some time. I intend to start work on more Pure shadow papers soon, as Pure maths carries the heavier weighting in the AS and A-level exams.

353. Large Data Display

If you teach A-level Maths in the UK, you will know about the prerequisite to know about the large data set for the statistics component. We use Edexcel and so need to know about eight weather locations.

Here is my Key Stage 5 corridor wall display.

I’ve got two maps – one of the World ( a freebie from the Humanities Dept) and one of the UK (£2.95 from Amazon).

I’ve included summary information from the CrashMaths booklet.

Of course, you can’t talk about UK weather data from the storm of 1987 – Michael Fish makes a special appearance.

352. Functions refresher

We recently finished teaching the AS Maths syllabus to Year 12. My colleague and I decided how to split up the start of the second year of the course. I’m starting with the modulus function.

I took one look at the skills needed at thought “Uh-oh”. The students are going to be out of practice with this. They are a lovely group, with a wide range of ability, but we’ve been very focussed on Applied Maths recently.

Option A: Go for it and patch up the vocabulary as we go (getting very frustrated – they knew this last October)

Option B: Break them in gently, recap the skills and vocabulary and extend them further

Option C: Reteach the work from last October.

Yes, you guessed it. I went with Option C. I found a brilliant task on piecewise function graphs on the Underground Maths website.

Image credit: https://undergroundmathematics.org/

There are four graphs given. The basic task is to interpret the functions relating to each graph, through description or function.

I photocopied the graphs onto card and sliced them up. Each group had a set of cards. One person described a graph and the others had to accurately draw it. Some students went straight onto squared paper, others drafted it out on mini whiteboards. They repeated this until all the graphs were drawn and everyone had had a go at describing (the describer stuck in their card, so that they had a complete set). Whilst they were doing this, I moved around and encouraged the use of mathematical vocabulary.

Note: it was interesting to see how many students had forgotten the significance of open and shaded circles to denote boundaries of inequalities.

The second task was to match up the function cards with the graphs. Once again, accuracy was key as not all graphs had functions and not all functions had graphs. There were also some that nearly, but not quite matched. This activity really brought out the key skills relating to domain, range and function notation that I was looking for. The extension task was to complete the missing pairs.

But, did it work? I can confirm that the following lesson the class made very good progress investing the modulus function and it’s graph, even going as far to solve equations. They knew what the notation meant, how to plot it and how to interpret the graphs.

I really like the Underground Maths website as it has great resources, good support material and always makes students think. Most of the time it gets teachers thinking too!

349. Circumcircle Investigation

The A-level textbook we use has a nice picture of the circumcircle of a triangle and a definition, plus a brief description of how to work through them. For those who are pondering what a circumcircle is, click on the image or link below

Image credit: WolframMathWorld

I’ll just stick to basic vocabulary in this post, rather than the formal circumcentre and circumradius.

Back to the book – not exactly inspiring or memorable stuff!

I looked at the class and off the cuff changed the lesson plan.

Equipment

  • Plain paper
  • Pencil
  • Ruler
  • Compasses
  • Calculator

Step 1

Draw a decent size triangle on the paper. Label the corners A,B,C.

Step 2

Using geometrical constructions, find the centre of the circle that your triangle fits in. Check by actually drawing the circle

Step 3

Discuss what techniques gave the best results – hopefully you’ll have perpendicular bisectors. There is a nice comparison between bisecting the angles (which some students will do) and bisecting the sides. The angle bisectors always cross inside the triangle, the side bisectors don’t.

Step 4

Randomly generate co-ordinates for A, B, & C. Get the students to pick them and then they can’t moan if the calculations are awful.

Step 5

Discuss how you are going to find the centre and radius of the circumcircle. We decided on:

  • Only use two sides
  • Find the midpoints
  • Find the gradients and hence perpendicular gradients
  • Generate the equations of the lines through the midpoint
  • Find where they intersect
  • Use the point and one corner to find the radius

Step 6

Review their methods, looking for premature rounding in questions. I’m still instilling an appreciation for the accuracy of fractions and surds, over reaching for the calculator.

Step 7

This is how my solution looked – I numbered the picture and the steps so students could follow the logic. I was answering on one page projected on screen.

 

348. A-Level colouring (Updated)

Those of you who follow this blog will know I have a thing for explaining with colours. This isn’t just a gimmick for younger students, it also works for 16-18 year olds.

In the picture below we were looking at proving a statement involving reciprocal trigonometric functions and fractions. A common source of misconception with this kind of question is that students split the question into working with the numerator and denominator separately, then make mistakes when they put them back together. They can’t see the big picture.

Image credit: Mathssandpit

When I discussed this on the board I used separate colours for the expressions in the numerator and denominator. The class could follow the logic so easily. It’s probably my most successful introduction to this topic. I saw that some students used highlighter on their notes after I’d gone through it, so they could track the solution.

The second type of question we looked at was solving a trigonometric equation. The straight forward expansion was all in one colour, but the roots of the quadratic were highlighted in different colours. The reasoning behind this was that students often solve half the quadratic and neglect the other impossible solution. Our exam board likes to see students consider the other solution and formally reject it. It makes the solution complete. By using a colour, the impossible solution stands out and reminds students to provide a whole solution.

Image credit: Mathssandpit

So when you are planning for misconceptions at A-level, remember that coloured pens aren’t just for younger students.

Update: 22nd October

The brilliant Mr B has shared how he uses colour to identify the forces in perpendicular directions in Mechanics.

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)