Archive for January, 2010

Movie poster goes for the funny bone, with algebra?

January 31, 2010 Leave a comment

The latest marketing craze - Hot Tub Time Machine poster uses algebra for laughs

Not quite safe for class this piece of news, but new movie Hot Tub Time Machine proves what we’ve always suspected – that algebra is the funniest topic in maths.  Check out that poster.

MGM says “we wanted to try to tell some story with the poster, which you don’t do a lot of the time. Who has algebra in something aimed at a mass audience? It was a fun way to make the title even more interesting.”

Breaking the equation down, it appears to read:

Older actors plus energy drink plus clear (possibly alcoholic) liquid plus squirrel divided by hot bath tub equals younger actors. Of course it would.

Admittedly, Woody Allen once said Comedy = Tragedy + Time, so maybe there really is something in the mathematical approach that we’ve been missing out on.

Advance word on the Hot Tub Time Machine movie itself? Apparently, the plot’s a bit formulaic. Badum-tissshhh.


AQA Functional Maths 2010 – so what are Longman doing about it?

January 29, 2010 Leave a comment
Longman AQA Functional Maths Student Book - Healthy homes - perimeter & area

Longman's AQA Functional Maths Student Book - sample spread

2010 is upon us and the Functional Maths qualification, along with its English and ICT cousins, will soon be going live.   We’re picking up a variety of noises from the teachers about this one, some excited, some nervous.  Excited because Functional maths offers a genuine opportunity to engage less mathematically inclined students.  Nervous because the pass rate during the Pilot was lower than expected, and because school timetables are stretched…   

How are we feeling?  Well, we’re always nervous – launching a new series is a nail-biting business.  But this time there’s more to be excited about.  For one thing, Functional Maths could make a real difference to students’ education and life skills – our Series Editor, Will Rigby, wrote passionately about this in a guest blog recently.  We think we can play a valuable role in that process.  But we’re also excited because putting together functional resources is fun, challenging and very, very different. 

What went wrong during the Pilot?  

Our first goal in designing this series was to avoid the pitfalls of the Pilot phase.  Two things stand out about this period: one, not enough students were passing –  secondly, the published books were inadequate.  If you look at all the books from this period, they teach in a disconnected way.  They don’t make clear what basic maths a student might need to study or revise before tackling the functional questions.  In fact, the books have almost no mathematical architecture at all.  The chapter titles are all about golfing, or IT, or travel plans, or financial budgeting – all very suitable real-life topics, but no clue is given as to how the maths is being developped.   So not only are students confused as to what maths skills they might need in any given chapter, teachers are confused as to how to integrate the book with their normal GCSE maths teaching.  

So how are we going to get things right this time? (Hopefully…)  

So the first thing we’ve done is to make sure the maths structure behind our student book is very, very clear.  Yes, all our chapters present up-to-date, relevant contexts – so we have chapters on choosing a mobile phone package, understanding credit card interest,  as well as later chapters on deforestation (volume and area)  and global warming (equations).  But for us, the equally important point is that each chapter is sub-titled with the maths it covers.  Have a look at the sample above: Area & perimeter.  And the maths is covered in a similar order to our main GCSE books, which – it goes without saying – is a sensible order for any teacher’s course.  So you find basic number skills at the start, measures & probability a bit later on, with geometery towards the end.   Each chapter builds on the next.  Teachers can see at a glance how to integrate our Functional Student Book with their GCSE course.  Because one of our survey findings is that 60% of teachers plan to teach Fuctional within their GCSE course, i.e. integrated.  

AQA Functional Maths - survey of teachers

Functional Maths survey: how are teachers planning to deliver their Functional Maths course?

But we’re aware that leaves 40% of Functional courses that will not be integrated within GCSE.  We want to address them as well, not least because none of the existing books do.  So we’ve developped “Practise the Maths” page spreads.   Every one of our chapters opens with two pages of competency, which offer a recap of the basic maths and some practice.  No-one is pretending this is enough to teach a complete maths course, but it is enough to let students revise their basic skills, and give them a little confidence before they embark on the functional.  Have a look at our sample spread on area & perimeter, below.  

Longman's AQA Functional Maths - area & perimeter

Longman's AQA Functional Maths Student Book - sample spread "Practise the Maths"

What happens next?
All being well, the AQA Functional Maths specification should be accredited in late March of this year.  First teaching will be in September 2010, and the first exam sitting in November 2010.  There are likely to be four sittings per year (although still to be confirmed): January, March, June and November.  Click here to get more detail.
Longman Resources
We will be publishing our Longman AQA Functional Maths series over the Summer of this year: first a Student Book, covering both Levels 1 & 2, then a Teacher Guide and finally an Active Teach.  ActiveTeach shows the Student Book on-screen for front-of-class teaching on a whiteboard.  It comes with a variety of video clips, interactive activities and “Examiner-Live” audio files.  Click here for more detail, or click here to order a free AQA Functional Maths Evaluation Pack – this will get you a free copy of the student book and a guide to the rest of the course.
If you’re reading this and you’re a teacher, we hope our approach chimes with you?  If it doesn’t, please let us know – we won’t get things right without your help!

Middle Sets Textbook published! Advance copies reached us this morning

January 19, 2010 Leave a comment

No-one in the office really believed we would manage this in January, but somehow it’s happened – we have a copy of the Middle Sets textbook in our hands!  Official publication follows later this week, which will mean that our AQA GCSE Series has been officially launched (unleashed?) into the world.

This also means that anyone who’s ordered our evaluation pack, should receive their copy in the next one to two weeks. If you would like to order our eval pack, just click here.  It’s free and it contains the Middle Sets book, a demo CD of ActiveTeach (the accompanying electronic product) and a printed guide to the complete course, i.e. all the other bits we’re offering like the Practice Books, Assessment Pack, etc etc.

Middle Sets textbook - can anyone think of a name for the chameleon?

Naturally, we’re all taking care not to look too carefully at the book.  It’s the worst moment to spot a typo…  So far nothing, except an observation that the turquoise tint we’ve used to indicate C-grade questions is slightly inconsistent in several places.  Whatever –  the book looks great to us: colourful, clear, not at all fat (in fact pleasantly slim for a textbook covering all three Units & 2 years of Maths), and, of course, adorned by our favorite chameleon.  

So that’s the first product in the series done.  Only another 19 to go (or 22 if you count Functional!)

Coming soon to a classroom near you: Augmented ID

January 18, 2010 Leave a comment

Not strictly our business to be blogging here about the latest developments and technologies in the social media, but…

This has to be seen to be believed.  A Swedish company has developed face-recognition and head-tracking software to allow mobile phone users find out who someone is simply by pointing their phone at them.  Not just who they are, but their phone number and their social networks and anything else they’ve saved to their profile.  Ewan MacIntosh’s blog directed us to this story.

We figure that teenagers will be early adopters of this kind of technology, which means it will become a feature of school/classroom life, which means it will affect all of us.   Check out this YouTube link:

AQA Update on severe weather conditions

January 13, 2010 Leave a comment

Even as we write, the snow has started falling again. AQA has issued an update on its severe weather procedures under the following headings…

  • The Examiner Labels did not arrive as expected
  • Will I still get my results through on Thursday?
  • What if a candidate cannot get into a centre or the centre is closed?
  • How to notify AQA of a centre closure
  • What if candidates arrive late for their examination?
  • What if I have not received examination papers because of the difficulties in delivering papers this week?
  • How do I apply for Special Consideration for multiple candidates affected equally by the disruption?
  • What should I do if our courier cannot collect our scripts?

The full document is here.

Good humour and bad science: Mathematical patterns evident in the location of Woolworths stores

January 12, 2010 Leave a comment

We’ve just stumbled on a hilarious “press release” regarding the location of Woolworths stores.  Apparently, they reveal archane knowledge on the part of the ancient civilisation that bequeathed these mouments to us.  The press release was issued by Matt Parker, a mathematics postgrad in London, and we found it on Ben Goldacre’s blog.   

Have a read – it’s a blast and, of course, very educational.  For maths or science teachers, a fun way to highlight bad science and bad statistical analysis.  

Not so daft: location of Woolworths stores suggest their owners knew what they were playing at

Not so daft: location of Woolworths stores suggest their owners possessed archane knowledge












5 January 2010  

Locations of Ancient Woolworths Stores follow Precise Geometrical Pattern  

Matt Parker, based in the School of Mathematical Sciences at Queen Mary, University of London, has analysed the locations of the 800 Woolworths stores to reveal precise geometric patterns. This was based on the work of Mr Tom Brooks (a retired marketing executive of Honiton, Devon) who found similar patterns in prehistoric monuments across the UK.  

Mr Brooks looked at 1500 sites and found that some of them follow geometric patterns and he concluded that they must have been part of a sophisticated navigational system. This was reported in the UK national press on 5 January 2010, with the Daily Mail reporting that the patterns were so “sophisticated and accurate” that “he does not rule out extraterrestrial help.”  

Matt Parker then decided to apply this technique to another ancient and mysterious civilisation: that of the Woolworths stores.  

“We know so little about the ancient Woolworth stores, but we do still know their locations” explains Matt Parker, “so I thought that if we analysed the sites we could learn more about what life was like in 2008 and how these people went about buying cheap kitchen accessories and discount CDs.”  

The results revealed an exact and precise geometric placement of the Woolworths locations. Three stores around Birmingham formed an exact equilateral triangle (Wolverhampton, Lichfield and Birmingham stores) and if the base of the triangle is extended, it forms a 173.8 mile line linking the Conwy and Luton stores. Despite the 173.8 mile distance involved, the Conway Woolworths store is only 40 feet off the exact line and the Luton site is within 30 feet.  All four stores align with an accuracy of 0.05%.  

The bisector of this same triangle then passes through the Monmouth, West Bromwich and Alfreton store locations with an accuracy of 0.5%. There are also grids of isosceles triangles – those with two sides of equal length – on each side of the Birmingham Woolworths Triangle. One such isosceles triangle made with Stafford only has an error of 3% and it points directly at the Northwich Woolworths store that is itself only 0.6% off being exactly isosceles.  

Matt Parker concludes that “these incredibly precise geometric patterns mean that the people who founded the Woolworths Empire must have used these store locations as a form of ‘landmark satnav’ to help hunters find their nearest source of cheap sweets that can be purchased in whatever mix they chose to pick. Well, that or the fact that in any sufficiently large set of random data it is possible to find meaningless patterns of any required accuracy.”  

These patterns were found from the 800 random ex-Woolworth locations by simply skipping over the vast majority of the sites and only choosing the few that happen to line-up. Matt Parker claims he could find many more such patterns, but he had some actual real work to do. He does envy Mr Tom Brooks though, who with 1500 locations, had almost twice as much data to pull meaningless patterns from.  

 “It is extremely important to look at how much data people are using to support an argument” Matt Parker warned. “For example, the case for global warming covers vast amounts of comprehensive evidence, but it is still possible for people to search through the data and find a few isolated examples that appear to show otherwise.”   

Arran Fernandez – 14 year old admitted to Cambridge to study Maths

January 11, 2010 Leave a comment

We picked up this story about 14 year old child prodigy, Arran Fernandez, who has been offered a place at Fitwilliam College after passing A-Level Maths and Further Maths.  He still has to pass Physics A-Level to fulfil his offer.  He first hit the news in 2001 at the age of 5, when he passed Foundation GCSE. 

Maths prodigy becomes youngest entrant to Cambridge since 1773

Arran Fernandez - Cambridge's latest 14 year old prodigy

The BBC site reports in this link that his latest ambition is to solve the Riemann Hypothesis.  No easy task by all accounts – here’s the Wikipedia entry.  His age would make him the youngest person since 1773 to study at Cambridge.

The story inevitably raises questions as to whether children should be pushed so fast so young.  The BBC site has a very balanced article weighing up the pro’s and con’s.  Many feel that this kind of fast-tracking sets the individual up for possible disappointment in later life. 

One thing the article doesn’t mention is that Arran’s 14 year old predecessor at Cambridge, who matriculated in 1773, was William Pitt the Younger.  Pitt became Prime Minister in 1783 and held the job for 20 years!

William Pitt the Younger - Cambridge's last 14 year old prodigy