## Oblongs

Last week while we were waiting for a swimming lesson to start my daughter told me that one of her teachers had got “higgledy piggledy” about oblongs. I asked what she meant and she said that she’d accidentally called one a rectangle and had to correct herself and had informed the class that at her last school she’d had to call them rectangles but at this school had to call them oblongs and sometimes got higgledy piggledy about this. I asked my daughter why they couldn’t call them rectangles and she said that it was because squares can be rectangles too.

This set off a lengthy chain of thoughts in my head. Firstly, I was quite impressed by the fact a 5 year old could articulate all this about knowledge about shapes so well. Then I thought, does it really matter whether they call them oblongs or rectangles? Then I thought, wait a minute, why are we prohibiting the use of rectangle because it can also mean a square, but we are not prohibiting the use of oblong when it can also mean an ellipse? My chain of thought then jumped down a rabbit hole questioning whether we should actually be referring to regular or equilateral rectangular parallelograms and non – regular/equilateral parallelograms. Why are we allowing children to call a shape a triangle, when it is one possible type of triangle in a family of triangles, but not allowing them to call a shape a rectangle when it is only one possible rectangle in a family of rectangles. These thoughts stewed around in my head for a while and I thought I’d ask the twittersphere for their opinions on the matter.

These opinions fell into a couple of camps. The first cam thought that oblong was a nice enough word and they didn’t mind others using it but preferred not to themselves. The second camp felt that it was important to distinguish between an oblong and a square so important to use oblong not rectangle and the third camp thought that actually it was better to use rectangles due to the elliptical oblongs. I questioned some of the respondents from the second two groups a little further to see why they fell into these groups. Those in the second seemed unaware that the word oblong also meant ellipse and those in the third thought it was more important to excluded ellipses than squares. Stating that it was easy enough to explain away the special case that is the square.

I’ve spend rather a lot of time considering this, and am now not really sure what I think on the issue. I can’t see a problem with using a rectangle and explaining away the square as a special case. We call all triangles triangles and expand as and when required. No one bothers about calling a non-rectangular parallelogram a parallelogram, despite the fact that that could mean a rectangle. But again I’m not sure I’m massively strongly against the term oblong either. It could open up a good discussion about the term and how it could apply to ellipses, although this probably is a little too much for a year 1 classroom. I think I’m leaning towards rectangle as a preference though, as explaining away a special case is, for me, much more preferable than ignoring a whole class of oblongs.

*If you have views on this, whichever way you lean, I’d love to hear them, either in the comments or via social media.*

## An excellent puzzle – alternate methods

Yesterday I wrote this post looking at a nice puzzle I’d seen and how I solved it.

The puzzle again:

Lovely, isn’t It?

After I published my previous post I wondered if I may have been better using a vector approach or a coordinate geometry approach. So I gave them a try.

**Coordinate Geometry**

I started by sketching the figure against an axis.

I place the origin at the centre of the circle, worked out the equation if the circle and the right leg of the triangle and solved simultaneously for x. Giving x =1 and x=1/3. These x values correspond to half the base of each triangle, which shows the scale factor from the large triangle to the small one is 1/3. As the area of the large one is rt2 this gives the area of the small as rt2/9.

I like this method, probably a little better than the one prior to it.

**Vectors**

First I sketched it out and reasoned I could work it out easy enough with 4 vectors.

I saw that I could write AC as a sum of two others:

I knew that the length of AC was 1 so I used Pythagoras’s Theorem to calculate mu. It left me with the exact same quadratic to solve. This time mu was the fraction of DB needed so was automatically the length scale factor. The rest falls out as it did before.

As well as this, Colin Beveridge (@icecolbeveridge), maths god and general legend, tweeted a couple of 1 tweet solutions. First he used trig identities:

**Trig Identities **

I assumed this was right, but checked it through to ensure I knew why was going on:

We can see beta is 2 x alpha and as such the tan value is correct. The cos value (although it is missing a negative sign that I’m sure Colin missed to test me) follows from Pythagoras’s Theorem:

This is again the scale factor as it is half the base of the small triangle and the base if large triangle is 2.

**Complex Numbers**

Then Colin tweeted this:

At first I wasn’t totally sure I followed so I asked for further clarification:

And then saw where Colin was going. I tried to work it through, by way of explaining here in a better manner.

I sketched it out and reasoned the direction of lines:

Then I normalised that and equated imaginary parts to get the same scale factor:

I am happy that is is valid, and that it shows Colin is right, but I’m not entirely sure this as the exact method Colin was meaning. He has promised a blog on the subject so I will add a link when it comes.

I like all these methods. I dontvthink I would have though of Colin’s methods myself though. I’d love to hear another methods you see.

## An excellent puzzle

Today I saw this tweet:

The puzzle looked grand. Thanks to those people that tweeted at me to make sure if seen it, it’s much appreciated.

The puzzle itself is:

I drew it out and labelled a few things:

But soon realised that it’s impossible unless you make assumptions.

With the assumption that the vertex of the triangle is at the midpoint if the line I was in a position to have a good crack at it. My first thought, as is often the case, was to run at it using right angled triangles:

My initial thought was to use right angled trigonometry, but I realised I’d probably need to approximate or use some maths software and that would take a bit of the fun out of it. I presumed I’d be able to find an exact answer in a better way.

I realised the big triangle and the green triangle were similar and I could easily work out the area of the big triangle.

I then realised I didn’t have the scale factor. I went back to rats.

Then realised I had another similar isoceles triangle to play with:

Using similarity I found the “base” of DFG and used that to find length EG. Thus giving me a scale factor between the blue and the green triangle.

As mentioned previously I knew that rt2/(SF^2) was the green area so using the scale factor of 3 I got the required area to be rt2/9.

I would like to say that’s what I did. That’s what I see I should have done while writing this up. But it’s not what I did at the time. I took a longer way round. I got giddy with triangles:

Used Pythagoras’s Theorem to find the peep height and found the area that way.

Luckily I got the same answer.

I then saw the same tweeter had tweeted this:

This is the same question but altered slightly in the information given and what is required as the final solution. If you make the same assumption it follows from the tan ratio that all the distances are the same, so you need to do the same to that point and then find the ratio green area / blue area. I’d done most of it above, so I finished it off:

*I love this puzzle, and I hope to use it in my classes next year. I may give it to year 12 tomorrow and see if they can crack it. I think I prefer the second variation. I’d love to hear your thoughts on it, and how you solved it. Let me know in the comments or via social media.** *

## Thoughts on the understanding paradox and introducing trigonometry

Recently I read a blog entitled “The understanding paradox” (William, 2017) which discussed the idea of maths teaching and put forward the idea that actually, it is better to bypass understanding when first teaching a topic and then fill that understanding in later. This was then applied to the teaching of right angled triangle trigonometry in an example that I found confusing to say the least.

The author, Rufus William, suggested that when teaching trig for the first time we should be solely teaching procedurally using SOHCAHTOA as a mnemonic, but then went on to say we shouldn’t be discussing ratio or similarity and how that links until later on. This confused me as the mnemonic SOHCAHTOA is designed to help you remember the trig ratios. I.e. Sine is the ratio of the opposite side over the hypotenuse. Just by teaching that you ARE teaching the trig ratios and purely by the fact that you are teaching the students that this will work for all right angled triangles you are telling the students that the ratios are the same for any triangle with the same angle no matter what the length of the sides are. THIS IS THE VERY DEFINITION OF SIMILAR TRIANGLES.

This perplexed me a lot and I spent a lot of time thinking about it and asking the author to elaborate on what he meant. The only way I can fathom to teach this without reference to ratio and similarity would be to say: ” “SOHCAHTOA” it gives you 3 triangles. Label the sides circle them to see which triangle you use. Put numbers in, cover the missing one, its either a divide or a times”. To me this seems like a backwards way to go about things. It feels like you are teaching them unnecessary procedures to avoid discussing the underlying concepts of trigonometry, and it doesn’t really make sense to me.

I find that by the time students reach right angled triangle trigonometry they have already met the concept of similarity, I like to use this a way in to discussing the topic and to show that ratio of two sides that are the same in relation to an angle will be the same for all similar triangles. Students will have always encountered simplifying fractions before they meet trig and as such can see why this is. This is when I specifically discuss the sine, cosine and tangent ratios and introduce the procedural manner in which they can solve the problems, although I do avoid the dreaded formula triangles (for many reasons which I have blogged about here). I will show them some common mnemonics, and SOHCAHTOA is one of them. I’m not a fan of mnemonics personally, I’ve never found them that useful except for musical ones, but I know a lot of people do.

Rufus does make some salient points in his post about teachers who refuse to allow students to memorise things and the dangers this will have on learning. Although I’m not entirely sure that they exist, and if they do I certainly don’t think there are many of them. I’ve certainly never met any.

He also suggests that students cannot have a full understanding of the ins and outs of trigonometry when they first meet it. I would very much agree with him in that respect, I know many people who have taught trigonometry for decades and still don’t, but I don’t think that means we have to bypass all information.

**Reference List:**

Cavadino, S.R. 2014. Formula Triangles. 12th October. *Cavmaths. *[online] accessed 14th July 2017. available: https://cavmaths.wordpress.com/2014/10/12/formula-triangles/

Cavadino, S.R. 2016. Catchy Mnemonics. 16th September. *Cavmaths. *[Online] accessed 14th July. Available: https://cavmaths.wordpress.com/2016/09/16/catchy-mnemonics/

William, R. 2017. The understanding paradox. 7th July. *No easy answers. *[online] accessed 14th July 2017. available: https://noeasyanswerseducation.wordpress.com/2017/07/07/the-understanding-paradox/

## Student Led Learning in Maths

Student led learning seems to be a bit of a hot topic at the moment. I’ve seen these two graphics making the rounds on twitter, I can’t find them now, but one was a slide proclaiming why student led learning was better and one was the same slide but altered to say it was worse. This of course came with great debate from all quarters.

It is also certainly a much talked about issue in the teaching and learning meetings we are having in my school.

This morning we had a great presentation from a food tech colleague who described a fantastic lesson where students had been allowed to lead their own learning on the function of eggs in cooking. A number of different recipes had been provided (as diverse as Egg Custard and Chick Pea Burgers) and students were given the choice as to what to cook and asked to investigate.

This sounded interesting, so I began to think about the applications this may have in a maths classroom. While studying for my Masters I read a lot about group work and other pedagogical approaches to the teaching of mathematics. I found that there was a lot of evidence to suggest that, on the teaching of new content, “whole class teaching”, i.e. direct instruction, was the most effective method (Reynolds and Mujis, 1999). However, this approach can often lead to students being proficient in algorithmically following a process to achieve and answer – ie they can have an instrumental understand of the topic but not a deeper understanding of the underlying concepts. This can lead to issues when students encounter a question that is phrased in a different way or that requires a variety of mathematical topics to solve. (e.g Avital and Shettleworth, 1968, Davis, 1984 and Skemp, 1976)

This was an area that interested me and my dissertation focus was using group work and other problem solving ideas to deepen conceptual understanding at A Level maths. I found that with my cohort explicitly teaching problem solving approaches and then setting problems that required a variety of approaches to be solved in groups to be effective. Some real success was had when I used problems I had not encountered and as such was able to act like a member of the group while bouncing ideas around.

My findings backed up the work of others who had suggested problem solving as a good tool to deepen conceptual understanding. (e.g. Avital and Shettleworth, 1968, English and Halford, 1995, Hembree, 1992, Karp, 2004, Silver and Marshall, 1999, and Zeitz, 2006)

In the new maths GCSE we are seeing questions that are focussed on testing a deeper understanding using problems that require thinking about and often require a number of mathematical techniques to solve. This is a move away from predictable questions and as such, teaching methods aimed at giving algorithms to students to solve types of questions will no longer work.

One simple example is questions based on ratio. Previously ratio questions usually took one of two forms, use a ratio to scale up a recipe or split this amount into this ration. Both are easily solvable by an algorithm and I’ve seen this taught this was and correct answers given by students who don’t really know what a ratio is. Now we are seeing ratio questions that include other areas of maths, such as densities, as well as questions where the language is quite important and a better understanding of what is going on is required.

i.e. A student who is taught, “When you see a ratio you add, divide then multiply”, will get full marks on a question asking “Sana and Jo split £110 pounds in the ratio 6:5, how much does Sana get?” but may get nothing if the question asks: “Fred and Nigel split some money in the ratio 6:5, Fred gets £10 more than Nigel. How much does Nigel get?” Even though there is a comparable level of mathematics used.

This, I feel, is where group work / “student led learning” could be very effective in maths teaching. Once content has been taught students need to practice that content in new setting and to mix it up with other content that has been learned. Tasks need to be set and students need to be given adequate time to get stuck and struggle. This will build resilience and problem solving skills as well as allowing students to see where various strands of maths can be applied.

This ties in with something I read recently that Kris Boulton (2017) had written about the use of learning objectives. Kris argues that sometimes it is important not to use learning objectives as this tells students exactly what maths they need to be using to solve a problem. This is a big factor in this idea around problem solving and I would go further and say that it’s important not to set problems that involve topics you have taught in the last few lessons as this will have the same effect as having an objective such as “use Pythagoras’s Theorem to solve problems involving areas.”

I hope to write more about this in the coming weeks as I look to further apply the findings of my dissertation to KS3 and 4. My thoughts at the moment are that this “student led” approaches are good for the development of these skills once the core content has already been taught. There are, of course, many draw backs to group work and other student led approaches, but they are for another post for another day.

**Reference List:**

Avital, S.M. and Shettleworth, S.J. 1968. *Objectives for mathematics learning; some ideas for the teacher*. Toronto: Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.

Boulton, K. 2017. Whywe need to get rid of lesson objetives. 17^{th} April. *To the real*. [online] accessed 13^{th} July 2017. Available: https://tothereal.wordpress.com/2017/04/17/why-we-need-to-get-rid-of-lesson-objectives/

Davis, R.B. 1984. *Learning mathematics: The cognitive science approach to mathematics education*. London: Croom Helm.

English, L.D. and Halford, G.S. 1995. *Mathematics education: Models and processes*. New Jersey, United States: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Hembree, R. 1992. Experiments and relational studies in problem solving: a meta analysis. *Journal for research in mathematics education*. **33**(3), pp.242–273.

Karp, A. 2004. Conducting Research and Solving Problems: The Russian Experience of Inservice Training. In: Watanabe, T. and Thompson, D. eds. *The Work of Mathematics Teacher Educators. Exchanging Ideas for Effective Practice*. Raleigh, NC: AMTE, pp.35–48.

Reynolds, D. and Muijs, D. 1999. The effective teaching of mathematics: A review of research. *School Leadership & Management*. **19**(3), pp.273–288

Silver, E.A. and Marshall, S.P. 1990. Mathematical and scientific problem solving: Findings, issues and instructional implications. In: Jones, B.F. and Idol, L. eds. *Dimensions of thinking and cognitive instruction*. Hilsdale, New Jersey, United States: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, pp.265–290.

Skemp, R.R. 1976. Relational understanding and instrumental understanding. *Mathematics Teaching*. **77**, pp.20–27

Zeitz, P. 2006. *The art and craft of problem solving*. USA: John Wiley.

## Dodgy Microsoft Graphics

So my new laptop arrived today and I quickly set about using it. It’s a Windows 10 laptop and as such has all the usual Microsoft stuff preloaded in it. I was going to set chrome as the default browser when it suggested I try Microsoft edge as it’s apparently faster and made for Windows 10. When I opened it it showed me this graphic:

Immediately I called shinanegans. The 5% difference between the green and the blue looked far too big. Initially I thought it was just down to the scale starting from 25000 and the size, but looking deeper there are also 4 extra sets if 5 notches on the blue which further add a to the illusion.

All in all a terrible diagram. Poor form Microsoft. Poor form.

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