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Square wheels in an Italian maths exam

There have been various stories in the Italian press and discussion on a Physics teaching mailing list I’m accidentally on about a question in the maths exam for science high schools in Italy last week.

The paper appears to be online.

(Ed. – Here’s a copy of the first part of this four-part question, reproduced for the purposes of criticism and comment)

The question asks students to confirm that a given formula is the shape of the surface needed for a comfortable ride on a bike with square wheels. (Asking what the formula was with no hints would clearly have been harder.) It then asks what shape of polygon would work on another given surface.

What do people think? Would this be a surprising question at A-level in the UK or in the final year of high school in the US or elsewhere? Of course, I don’t know how similar this question might be to anything in the syllabus in licei scientifici.

The following links give a flavour of the reaction to the question:

6 hours, 1 question out of 2 in section 1, 5 out of 10 in section 2. My own initial reaction is that if I had to do this exam right now I’d do question 2 in section 1 but I’ve not actually attempted question 1 yet.

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.

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.

Cockcroft on puzzles in maths teaching

I am interested in puzzles and games and how they relate to mathematical thinking, not least through my involvement with the Maths Arcade initiative. I was pleased to read what is said on this topic in the 1982 Cockcroft report. This is the report of an inquiry started in 1978 “to consider the teaching of mathematics in primary and secondary schools in England and Wales, with particular regard to its effectiveness and intelligibility and to the match between the mathematical curriculum and the skills required in further education, employment and adult life generally”.

Not mentioned on The Aperiodical this month – August 2014

As usual in the summer, we’ve all been off doing our own things and consequently neglecting the news queue. Time to break out our tried-and-tested solution: a combo-post summarising everything we failed to cover in depth, before it goes completely out of date.

The Royal Society has Opinions about Education

The Royal Society has released a report outlining their idea of what science and maths education should look like in the future. It’s over a hundred pages long, but they’ve made a nice website to go along with it, with pages summarising their recommendations for things like “stability for curricula” and the teaching profession.

More information: The Royal Society’s vision for science and mathematics education

Cédric Villani is setting up a Maths Museum in Paris

The 2010 Fields Medal winner Cédric Villani announced at Copenhagen’s Euroscience Open Forum last month that there will be a museum dedicated to mathematics, based at the Institut Henri Poincaré, where he is the director. It’s expected to open in 2018.

Source: Cédric Villani annonce la création d’un musée des mathématiques à Paris, in Sciences et Avenir (in French)

Science Magazine establishes a Statistical Board of Reviewing Editors

In response to recent increases in flawed quantitative analysis and statistical bias in papers, Science has announced its intention to establish a Statistical Board of Reviewing Editors to provide better oversight on data interpretation. Recognising that a technical reviewer may not also be fluent in data analysis, the panel will consist of experts in stats and data analysis, and will be sent papers identified by their regular Board of Reviewing Editors (BoRE) as being in need of further scrutiny. Hooray for maths!

More information

Science Magazine raises its statistical bar. Will we? at Chris Blattman’s blog

Raising the Bar, at Science (free registration required to view, because of Science reasons)

Science joins push to screen statistics in papers in the Nature blog

ASA launches ‘This is Statistics’

this is statistics

The American Statistical Association, in a push to provide a new perspective on a subject often misunderstood and considered to be boring, has launched This is Statistics, a new website full of videos, applets and articles outlining how useful and interesting stats can be. It’s aimed at students, parents and educators and includes quizes and case studies of how stats has helped science change lives.

Website: This is Statistics

via Tim Harford on Twitter

Review(ish): Mathbreakers

We were first told about Mathbreakers a few months ago. It was at a very early stage of development, and it wouldn’t run on my PC. Now some time has passed, and I managed to run the most recent version last weekend. I’ve only played the demo, so a full review isn’t fair, but I thought I’d tell you about it in case you want to give it a go.

Warning: this post has like a bajillion animated GIFs in it. Your internet connection will suffer.

Mathbreakers is what I’d call an ‘edutainment’ game, though I think that term’s fallen out of favour. The developers, Imaginary Number Co., say it’s “a video game that teaches math through play”. It’s aimed at school kids, and deals with basic numeracy.