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Paper about student use of a learning space in mathematics

One of the nice things about working in mathematics at Sheffield Hallam University is the environment in which I work. The maths department is a big, open learning space for students surrounded by staff offices. It’s a busy place, full of activity and plenty of opportunities to interact with students and other staff.

This space was renovated for mathematics a little before I arrived. It was designed to enhance student engagement and to create this sense of community, to allow collaborative learning and encourage inter-year interactions.

Over the last year, we conducted a study of use of the space. This included observations of use of the space as well as questionnaires and interviews with students about their use of the space, including students who had studied in the department in the old and new locations.

The results have just been published as ‘The role of informal learning spaces in enhancing student engagement with mathematical sciences‘ by Jeff Waldock, Peter Rowlett, Claire Cornock, Mike Robinson & Hannah Bartholomew, which is online now and will appear in a future issue of International Journal of Mathematical Education in Science and Technology (doi:10.1080/0020739X.2016.1262470).

A more equitable statement of the jealous husbands puzzle

Every time I use the jealous husbands river crossing problem, I prefix it with a waffly apology about its formulation. You’ll see what I mean; here’s a standard statement of the puzzle:

Three married couples want to cross a river in a boat that is capable of holding only two people at a time, with the constraint that no woman can be in the presence of another man unless her (jealous) husband is also present. How should they cross the river with the least amount of rowing?

I’m planning to use this again next week. It’s a nice puzzle, good for exercises in problem-solving, particularly for Pólya’s “introduce suitable notation”. I wondered if there could be a better way to formulate the puzzle – one that isn’t so poorly stated in terms of gender equality and sexuality.

Photomath can read my writing

I remember when OCR of mathematics was such a difficult problem that there was no good solution. I remember hints some years ago that the then-current version of InftyReader could do a reasonable job of taking a PDF document and converting it into LaTeX code, but it was far from perfect.

Today my phone told me that the app Photomath has an update and now supports handwriting recognition. This means I can write something like this:

and Photomath does this with it:

Exam timing

When I have been involved with running exams (I wasn’t, really, this year), special care seems to be made to spread these out so that where possible students don’t get exams bunched together. Still, I’ve heard students complain “we only have one day off between the Monday and Wednesday exams, that isn’t enough time to revise for the second topic”. I have a lot of sympathy for this; assessing a module (or proportion thereof) by how you perform in a one-, two- or three-hour window is quite a problematic arrangement, and if you haven’t had sufficient time to get up to speed on the topic, even more so. But I have had in mind that, essentially, “when I were a lad, we had it much worse”. Clearing out some boxes to move house, I found exam timetables from five of the six semesters I spent as an undergraduate, so now I can confirm or refute my feeling on this, in the latest of my series of posts that are surely only of interest to me.

“How can you do coursework for maths?” What I marked this year

A while ago I was helping out at an open day. The material presented gave some information about the range of assessment types we use. A potential applicant asked me “how can you do coursework for maths?”. She felt that (what she understood as) maths could only be assessed by examination. (This is presumably because her experience of the English school system has not exposed her to anything but exams for maths.)

I thought it might be interesting (to me, at least) to list the types of assessment I’ve been involved in marking in the 2015/16 academic year.

PhD proposal in maths/engineering higher education

My university is advertising 30 fully funded PhD scholarships for autumn 2016. Basically, there are a list of projects and which ones get funded depends on applications. I am lead on a proposal for a topic in maths/engineering higher education. The description is below, and I would be grateful if you could bring it to the attention of anyone who might be interested.