Posts Tagged ‘Maths’

Circles puzzle

October 13, 2016 Leave a comment

Here’s a lovely puzzle I saw on this week:

It’s a nice little workout. I did it entirely in my head and that is my challenge to you. Do it, go on. Do it now….

Scroll down for my answer….

Have you done it? You better have…..
I looked at this picture and my frat thought was that the blue and gold areas are congruent. Thus the entire picture has an area of 70. There are 4 overlaps, each has an area of 5, so the total area of 5 circles is 90. Leaving each circle having an area of 18.

This is a nice mental work out and I feel it could build proprtional reasoning skills in my students. I am hoping to try it on some next week.

Did you manage the puzzle? Did you do it a different way?

This post was cross posted to better questions here.

Categories: Maths, Starters Tags: , , , ,

A new term, and a new school

September 15, 2016 Leave a comment

I’ve started a new job this year at a new school. This is the second time I’ve moved schools and I have to say it has been a much smoother transition than it was the last time.

This school is very close geographically to my last school and as such has a similarge make up of students. 

I’ve now got to the point where I can remember most of the names of my students and we are working hard to put some real progress in the classroom.

It’s been a time of change all round really, my daughter started school this year too, and as such I have now become the parent of a school kid. That’s been weird all round but she’s enjoying it and I think we picked a really good school. My wife and I have been invited to attend a meeting there next week when the will tell us how they teach English and maths in reception. I’m interested to see what they say about it, particularly in mathematics!

Also this summer I finished my MA and I’m awaiting results for the dissertation. I think it went OK,  but I won’t know until the brown envelope arrives with my feedback and grade. The dissertation was entitled “Investigating problem solving as a means to improving understanding in A level mathematics” – catchy I know. I enjoyed writing it and I may share a summary on here at a later date. 

All in all its currently a time of change and that brings with it excitement and challenges. 

How has your start to the new year been? How are your new classes? Have you started a new job? I’d love to hear about it in the comments or via social media.

Categories: Commentary Tags: , , ,

Circles and Triangles

July 15, 2016 5 comments

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!

A lovely old problem

July 11, 2016 Leave a comment

Recently Ed Southall shared this problem from 1976:

I’m not entirely sure if it is from an A level or and O level paper. It covers topics that currently sit on the A level, but I think calculus was on the O level at some point. Edit: it’s O level I saw the question and couldn’t help but have a try at it.

First, I drew the diagram – of course:

I have the coordinates of P, and hence N so I needed to work out the coordinates of Q.  To do this I differentiated to get the gradient of a tangent and followed to get the gradient of a tangent at P.

Next I found the equation, and hence the X intercept.

And then, because I’m am idiot, I decided to work out the Y coordinate I already knew and had used!

The word in brackets is duh…..

Now I had all three point.

It was a simple division to find the tangent ratio of the angle.

The next 2 parts were trivial:

And then I misread the question and assumed I’d been asked to find the shaded region (actually part d). 

Because I decided calculators were probably not widely available in 1976 I did it without one:

I thought it was quite a lot of complicated simplifying, but then I saw part c and the nice answer it gives:

Which makes the simplifying in part d simpler:

I thought this was a lovely question and I found it enjoyable to do. It tests a number of skills together and although it is scaffolded it still requires a little bit of thinking. I hope to see some nice big questions like this on the new specification.

Edit: The front cover of the paper:

Radical Exponents

July 6, 2016 1 comment

Recently I saw this from 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.

Another Multiplication Technique

June 20, 2016 2 comments

I’ve written a few posts over the years on different multiplication techniques (see this and this), there are many and each has its own appeals and pitfalls.

Today I discovered another. I was looking over Q D1 exam paper and came across this flowchart:


The questions were all fairly reasonable and one of my students was completing the question to see if he had for it right. Afterwards I asked if he knew. What the algorithm was doing, he wasn’t sure at first but when another student explained it was finding the product of x and y he realised.

Then he asked, “but why does it work?

I looked at the algorithm and initially it didn’t jump out at me. I tried the algorithm with 64 and 8.


I could see it worked through mocking factors of 2 from the left to the right but this time there was no odd numbers, so I picked some other numbers:


And that’s when it all made sense. Basically, what’s happening is you are moving factors of 2 from x to y thus keeping the product equal. When x is odd, you remove “one” of y from your multiplication and put it in column t. Your product is actually xy + t all the way down, it’s just that until you take any out your value for t is 0. T is a running total of all you have taken from your product.

The above becomes:

40 × 20
= 20 × 40
= 10 × 80
= 5 × 160
= 4 × 160 + 160
= 2 × 320 + 160
= 1 × 640 + 160
= 0 × 640 + 160 + 640
= 0 × 640 + 800
= 800

I tried it out again to be sure:


This is an nice little multiplication method that works, I’m not sure it’s very practical, buy interesting nontheless.

Have you met this method before? Have you encountered any other strange multiplication techniques?

Patient problem solving

June 7, 2016 5 comments

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

Understanding students’ ideas


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

Lockhart, P. (2009). A Mathematician’s Lament. Retrieved from:

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