Browsing category ranting

On Estimating

An exam question was recently brought to my attention: students were asked to estimate $31.28^2$. Whoosh “$31^2 = 961$ and $31.5^2 = 992.25$, so it’s about 978.” “Very good, sensei, but no marks. Uhuhuh, put that down - you need to take it up with the exam board, not with

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On degrees

I gave a talk (some months ago now) on the history of $\pi$ (which is well discussed in my unreliable history of maths, Cracking Mathematics, available wherever good books are sold.) At one point, I put up a slide generally excoriating degrees as a measurement of angle, and stating that

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On Customer Survey Forms

In the olden days, I had a proper job1 writing software for customer survey forms. Among other things, our users could ask their customers to rate how likely it was that they would recommend the product to their friends. Typically, this would be on a ten-point scale, from extremely unlikely

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Ask Uncle Colin: Grade boundaries

Dear Uncle Colin, I'm sitting my GCSE Maths starting tomorrow. What will the grade boundaries be? - First Exams Are Redoubtable Hi, FEAR, I'm writing this, believe it or not, in early February1. I'm not even sure this summer's GCSE papers have been written yet, but I am going to

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Glittering like a Christmas tree

"It is like a cave that seemed to be absolutely sparkling with jewels. Maths glittered like a Christmas tree at me." - Amanda Spielman, at the Education Select Committee, October 30th 2017 What an image. What an image. Caves are dark, and cold, and slightly frightening, but buried deep within,

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In Praise of… LaTeX

The summer of 2003 was a glorious one in Fife: blazing sunshine, warm-but-not-too-warm, a lovely fresh breeze blowing in off of the North Sea. At least, I'm told it was glorious. I was stuck in room 226, preparing two versions of my PhD thesis as my supervisor had decided a

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An Australian Dining Phenomenon

In an early draft of my forthcoming book, The Maths Behind, which will be available wherever good books are sold from September, I believe, I took the following unprovoked dig at Australia: "... it crashed into the ocean about 1,600 miles to the west of Perth, Australia. There's nothing there.

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A New Year’s Resolution For You (Only For Genius [sic])

Right, listen up, everyone. I know you've already made your new year's resolutions, and probably broken most of them by now, but I've got one for you to add to your list. It concerns images like this one: Anything with a picture of Einstein on it. Anything that says "only

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Quickfire reviews

As I happened to be in London last week, I took an afternoon to visit the Science Museum and, especially, the Winton Gallery exhibit on Mathematics. Maths! In the Science Museum! What a treat! Or so I hoped. The Winton Gallery: Mathematics There's a bit in Surely You're Joking, Mr

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Should you need a maths degree to teach maths?

A good friend, a brilliant maths teacher, was recently dissed on Twitter. And if there’s one thing I don’t stand for, it’s good friends and brilliant maths teachers being dissed on Twitter. There was an implication — perhaps inadvertent; I know I’ve fired off short messages too quickly and implied

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