Hell’s Angles

I stumbled across the above the other day (source) and it made me chuckle, reminding me a little of of this post about cute angels and other mathematical bloopers.

The cartoon above was drawn by Dan Piraro and can be found on his Bizaro website – well worth a visit. By virtue of the fact that you are reading my blog, I’m guessing you are of a mathematical bent (but whether that bend forms an acute or obtuse angle, who knows!) and therefore may particularly enjoy this cartoon of his.

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Nick Gibb – a poor man’s George Osborne?

Back in 2014, I wrote “What a turnip” as the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, refused to answer the simple times table: “what is seven times eight?”

Today it was the turn of the School’s Minister, Nick Gibb, who was on TV announcing his scheme for all eight and nine year old children to sit a compulsory times tables test.

Of course, the inevitable happened: he, himself, was asked a times tables question (what is 8 x 9?) and he, like Osborne before him, refused to answer.

I get why he (and other politicians) choose not to answer – what is in it for them? Nothing.  Get it right and “meh, you should know that”, get it wrong and it’ll haunt you forever, could even spell the end of a glittering* political career.   (* tongue firmly in cheek)

But the presenter, Kate Garraway, skewered him perfectly – in the context of the world of an eight year old, sitting a formal test is as high pressure as doing a TV interview is for a government minister.

To be fair, I don’t disagree with all that the Minister has said and done.  The results for individuals, or individual schools, will not be published, the data will be used as a tool to measure performance in this skill across LEA and the country. And he spoke of the need for instant recall of times tables allowing the freeing up of working memory for other tasks, and I agree with this.  As a maths teacher, I support anything that will promote numeracy and mental arithmetic – a solid foundation in these skills is not essential to future success in mathematics, but they certainly do help. A lot.

Anyway, you can watch the cringe-worthy ministerial squirming on the video below – it should start at the point the question was asked, but if you can spare six or seven minutes, its worth watching the whole interview from the beginning.

Posted in Maths Fail, Numeracy | 1 Response

Come the revolution!

Anyone walking past my classroom of late might have come to the conclusion that I was fomenting a revolution, hearing me inciting my students to

Bring down the power!

The Head can sleep easy in his bed – I am not encouraging the students to rise up, burn their books and storm the staff room. I am merely teaching the arcane (to some, but not me) rules of logarithms, and the power rule in particular.  You will, of course, be familiar with the rule:

log xn = n log x

but students need to be taught this, so I constantly find myself telling them to “bring down the power.”

When I do, I do like to think of myself as some sort of latter day Lenin, inspiring my students to throw off the shackles of ignorance, to rise up and seize the power that a knowledge of mathematics will bring them!!!

Lenin, calling on his students to bring down the power and submit to the Rule(s) of Logs

Posted in Numeracy | Leave a comment

Large Data Sets – Activities

A year ago, I wrote this blog post, introducing Large Data Sets, a new feature to be taught on the “reformed” new AS and A level specification. Back then, it was a lot of guess work as to how best to use this new element on the syllabus, and how they will be examined in the exams.

One year on, and I must confess, I’m not much the wiser, but time waits for no man and, with much of the “pure” content having been taught the elephant in the room that are large data sets can no longer be ignored.

Helpfully, OCR have published some teaching activities for use with large data sets. They can be found by following this link. I have also uploaded the Word documents and Large Data Set and you can download the directly on the links at the bottom of this post.

They are described as “Starter Activities”, designed to familiarise your students with the large data sets and should take circa 10 minutes per activity. Not sure I agree with this. The activities/discussion points are good – for example, in Activity 5 you might get half your class to be “Team Bristol Mayor” and argue the case for how they have successfully got commuters out of the car and travelling to work by foot or bike, and ask the other half be “Team Paxman” taking down the Mayor’s argument and highlighting car use has increased over the last decade. The statistics can be used to support both arguments and I do think that it is right that we are teaching our students how data can be – and is – used in the real world.

But be warned: these are not trivial activities that you can print out 5 minutes before your lesson – you will want to spend some time looking at the activities yourself before presenting them to the students, even if it is only to understand what the various graphs show as, for example, OCR have not labelled the axis in many cases.

They are also liberal with the use of abbreviations – perhaps this deliberate, forcing the student to consult the Large Data Set to remind themselves with what they mean, but to help you, below are a few of the more common abbreviations, and what they mean:

UMLT: Underground, Metro, Light Rail, Tram

BMC: Bus, Minibus, Coach

MSM: Motorcycle, Scooter or Moped

LDS: Large Data Set

LA: Local Authority

Download the documents:

Starter Activities 1 to 5

Starter Activities 6 to 9

Investigating Bicycle Use (Sampling Activity)

Investigating UMLT Use (Calculating from the LDS)

Large Data Set

Posted in Handling Data, Large Data Sets | Tagged | 1 Response

A Picture Paints a Thousand Words

I could spend hours pontificating, explaining and lecturing and still not explain the difference between a Type I error and a Type II error as simply and as effectively as the image above. A picture really can be worth a thousand words.

Credit where credit is due: the image can be found in

The Essential Guide to Effect Sizes – Paul D. Ellis

This succinct and jargon-free introduction to effect sizes gives students and researchers the tools they need to interpret the practical significance of their results.


… a useful (and readable) book that aims to equip the reader to be able to distinguish between statisically significant and practically significant results.

Posted in Handling Data | Leave a comment