## Angles or Angels?

When I marked my year 11 books the other day I noticed that quite a few had been working that morning on “Angels in triangles’. This peturbed me a little, surely by Year 11 they should know the difference and be able to spell each one.

To counteract this massive literacy issue I played a game of “Angles and Angels”. I spoke to them first about the difference, then about the spelling and then did a show me activity where I showed them various pictures and they had to show me on their whiteboards if it was an angle or an “Angel”. I was impressed that they even got the picture of Kurt Angle, although none of them recognised David Boreanas…..

The activity led to a discussing with a couple of them as to why it was important to discuss these things in maths lessons. Stemming from the inevitable question “why we learning about this? It’s maths not English.”

I explained my opinion that we may be learning maths, but that literacy is important in all subjects. As a maths teacher I educate these students and literacy has to be a big party of that, as I hope numeracy is a big party of those subjects that deal with numbers but aren’t maths. I also expressed the importance of maths specific vocabulary, such as ‘angles’ and how it’s not necessarily going to be covered in English.

It is these sorts of things that we need to be thinking about, literacy wise, to ensure our students are in the best position when they leave.

## A nice little triangle puzzle

Here is a nice little puzzle I saw from brilliant.org on Facebook.

Have you worked it out yet?

Here’s what I did:

First I drew a diagram (obviously).

And worked out the area of the triangle.

Then the area of each sector.

## Catchy Mnemonics

I find most memory aids a little silly. Why learn a rhyme about horses when you can just learn the trig ratios? Why learn a rhyme about the duke of York when you can just remember the order the colours come in?

However, I find that music is a good way of remembering things. For some reason music is good for us to remember words. I can, for instance, remember the words to a great deal of 90s pop songs even though I didn’t like them and never chose to listen to them because I heard them out places and on TV so often that they got lodged in my brain forever.

This is something I have seen work well in learning maths facts. Year on year I hear pupils sing “mean is average, mean is average…” etc in lessons to remember the averages. And I also hear a great many variations on the circle song.

Last year when I was teaching kinematics one of the students said “Sir,play the SUVAT song.” I’d not heard of the SUVAT song and he found it on you tube and we listened to it. It’s simple and it’s catchy and it really helped him and his class remember those equations. So on Tuesday I played it to one of my mechanics classes. By the end of the leson I’d heard three people sing it and it has been stuck in my head all week.

*What do you think about mnemonics? Do they have a place? Have you any songs or rhymes that you use to remember things or that you encourage students to use? And do they help?*

## Circles and Triangles

Regular readers will know that I love a good puzzle. I love all maths problems, but ones which make me think and get me stuck a bit are by far my favourite. The other day Ed Southall (@solvemymaths) shared this little beauty that did just that:

I thought “Circles and a 3 4 5 triangle – what an awesome puzzle”, I reached for a pen an paper and drew out the puzzle.

I was at a bit of a loss to start with. I did some pythag to work some things out:

Eliminated y and did some algebra:

Wrote out what I knew:

And drew a diagram that didn’t help much:

I then added some additional lines to my original diagram:

Which made me see what I needed to do!

I redrew the important bits (using the knowledge that radii meet tangents at 90 degrees and that the line was 3.2 away from c but the center of the large circle was 2.5 away):

Then considered the left bit first:

Used Pythagoras’s theorem:

Then solved for x:

Then briefly git annoyed at myself because I’d already used x for something else.

I did the same with the other side to find the final radius.

A lovely puzzle using mainly Pythagoras’s theorem, circle theorems and algebra so one that is, in theory at least, accessible to GCSE students.

I hope you enjoyed this one as much as I did!

## Radical Exponents

Recently I saw this from brilliant.org on Facebook and it struck me as an interesting problem:

the first solution is trivial and obvious:

But the Facebook post said there was two, so I set out in search of the next one. As there were exponents I thought I’d take logs of both sides:

Then realised I could take logs to base X and make things a whole lot simpler….

So x = 9/4

As you can see it reduces to an easily solvable problem, and all that was left was to check the answer:

A lovely little problem that gives a good work out to algebra and log skills.

## Patient problem solving

I recently read a piece by D Pearcy called “Reflections on Patient Problem Solving”, from Mathematics Teaching 247. It was an interesting article that looks at how teachers need to allow time for students to try their own ideas out while problem solving, rather than just coax them along in a “this is how I would do it” kind of way.

Pearcy’s definition of problem solving is looking at something you have never encountered before that is difficult and frustrating at times, takes a reasonable amount of time, can be solved more than one way and can be altered or extended upon easily. He then goes on to ask whether this is actually happening in classes or if teachers are just walking students through problems, rather than allowing them to problem solve.

He quotes Lockhart (2009) – “A good problem is one you don’t know how to solve” and states that it follows that if you give hints then it defeats the point of setting problems. He goes on to say that maths advocates talk of the importance of maths as a tool to problem solving – but that this isn’t actually happening if students are not being allowed to get frustrated and struggle through to a solution.

He explains how he finds it difficult not to give hints when students are struggling, both because it is in most teachers nature to help, and because of the external pressure to get through the syllabus quickly. This is something I too have encountered and something I have become increasingly aware of as I try to allow time for struggle. Other factors at play are maintaining interest, and increasing confidence. If we let students struggle too much they may lose interest and confidence in their ability – thus it is important to strike a balance between allowing the struggle but not letting it go too far. This is certainly something I keep in mind during lessons, and I feel it is something that we all should be aware of when planning and teaching.

This is an interesting article that looks at a specific problem and allowing students time to struggle and persist. This importance of this is paramount, in my view, and this is also the view expressed by the author of the article. I find it very hard to not offer hints and guidance when students are struggling. One way I manage to combat this at times is by setting problems I haven’t solved yet, thus leaving me a task to complete at the same time. This can work well, particularly at A Level and Further Maths level as then I can take part in the discussion with the students almost as a peer. This is a technique I have used often with my post 16 classes this year.

I have been reading a lot about problem solving recently, and a recurring theme is that teachers can often stifle the problem solving they are hoping to encourage by not allowing it to take place. This is something we need to be aware of, we need to have the patience to allow students the time to try out their ideas and to come up with solutions or fall into misconceptions that can then be addressed.J

.

*Have you read this article? If so, what are your thoughts on it? Have you read anything else on problem solving recently? I’d love you to send be the links if you have and also send me your thoughts. Also, what does problem solving look like in your classroom? Do you find it a struggle not to help? I’d love to hear in the comments or via social media.*

**Further Reading on this topic from Cavmaths:**

Dialogic teaching and problem solving

**References:**

Pearcy.D. (2015). Reflections on patient problem solving. *Mathematics Teaching. ***247** pp 39-40

Lockhart, P. (2009). *A Mathematician’s Lament*. Retrieved from: https://www.maa.org/external_archive/devlin/LockhartsLament.pdf

## Infuriatingly impossible exam questions

Today I was working on some Vectors exam questions with my Y13 mechanics class and I came across this question:

A student had answered it and had gotten part d wrong. What he had done was this:

I have recreated is incorrect working.Obviously he had found out when the ship was at the lighthouse, instead of 10km away. I explained this to him and started to explain how he should have tackled this when a sudden realisation angered me.

Now for those if you that didn’t work through the question, here is the actual answer:

Can you see what had me infuriated?

This is an impossible answer! If the lighthouse is on the trajectory of the ship and it will hit said lighthouse at t=3 then that would stop the ship! At the very least it would slow it down!!!! In reality it would have to avoid the lighthouse and change trajectory. Meaning the second answer, T=5, would not happen under any circumstances!

My initial thought was:

“are they expecting students to spot this and discount the second answer? That’s a bit harsh.”So I checked the markscheme:

Nope, they are looking for both answers. Argh! I can understand using a real life context in mechanics, I really can. But why not check for this sort of thing!

What do you guys think? Is this infuriating or am I just getting get up over nothing? I’d love to hear your views in the comments or via social media.## Share this via:

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