Dr Nic’s blog

9 October 2017

Rich maths with Dragons

Thanks to the Unlocking Curious Minds fund, StatsLC have been enabled to visit thirty rural schools in Canterbury and the West Coast and provide a two-hour maths event to help the children to see themselves as mathematicians. The groups include up to 60 children, ranging from 7 to 12 years old – all mixed in together. Here is a link to a story about us from Unlocking Curious Minds. What do mathematicians do? We begin by talking about what mathematicians do, drawing on the approach Tracy Zager uses in “Becoming the Math teacher you wish you had”. (I talk more […]
18 September 2017

Political polls – why they work – or don't

Political polls – why do they work – or don’t This is written in the week before the 2017 New Zealand General Election and it is an exciting time. Many New Zealanders are finding political polls fascinating right now. We wait with bated breath for each new announcement – is our team winning this time? If it goes the way we want, we accept the result with gratitude and joy. If not, then we conclude that the polling system was at fault. Many wonder how on earth asking 1000 people can possibly give a reading of the views of all […]
31 July 2017

What mathematicians do

What do mathematicians do? We ask children what mathematicians do, and the answers include, “they do mathematics”, “they get things right”, and “they answer questions.” Hmm. Recently in guest workshops I asked about 120 pre-service primary/elementary teachers how many see themselves as mathematicians. Each time, there were about 10% who identified as mathematicians. I then asked them, how many would like the children they teach to think of themselves as mathematicians. It was almost 100% to the affirmative. And then I ask, “Do we have a problem?” We do have a problem. I also introduced the idea of maths trauma, […]
20 July 2017

Dragon Trainer rich mathematical task

I love rich mathematical tasks. Here is one for all levels of schooling. What do you think? Background to rich tasks A rich task is an open-ended task that students can engage with at multiple levels. I use the following information from the nrich website when I am talking to teachers about rich tasks. Background to Dragonistics data cards In this task we use our Dragonistics data cards, which are shown here. For a less colourful exercise you could use 24 pieces of card with numbers 1 to 8 on them. Each dragon has a strength rating of between 1 […]
13 July 2017

Mathematics and statistics lessons about elections

Study elections in mathematics because it is important Too often mathematics is seen as pure and apolitical.  Maths teachers may keep away from concepts that seem messy and without right and wrong answers. However, teachers of mathematics and statistics have much to offer to increase democratic power in the upcoming NZ general elections (and all future elections really). The bizarre outcomes for elections around the world recently (2016/2017 Brexit, Trump) are evidence that we need a compassionate, rational, informed populace, who is engaged in the political process, to choose who will lead our country. Knowledge is power, and when people […]
12 June 2017

Maths trauma can be healed

Maths trauma and earthquakes Trauma is a deeply distressing or disturbing experience. Many people in my home town of Christchurch still suffer from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of our earthquakes five or so years ago. I know I will never be the same again. The trauma began with the original terrifying experience of having the ground move in a way you never thought was even possible. It was perpetuated by over eighteen months of never knowing when the next earthquake (deceptively called aftershock) would hit. And the trauma still continues for many as they struggle to […]
24 April 2017

Graphs – beauty and truth

Graphs – beauty and truth (with apologies to Keats) A good graph is elegant I really like graphs. I like the way graphs turn numbers into pictures. A good graph is elegant. It uses a few well-placed lines to communicate what would take a paragraph of text. And like a good piece of literature or art, a good graph continues to give, beyond the first reading. I love looking at my YouTube and WordPress graphs. These graphs tell me stories. The WordPress analytics tell me that when I put up a new post, I get more hits, but that everyday […]
15 February 2017

Educating the heart with maths and statistics

What has love got to do with maths? This morning at the Twitter chat for teachers, (#bfc630nz) the discussion question was, How and what will you teach your students about life this year? As I lurked I was impressed at the ideas and ideals expressed by a mixed bunch of teachers from throughout New Zealand. I tweeted:  “I wonder how often maths teachers think about educating the heart. Yet maths affects how people feel so much.” My teaching philosophy is summed up as “head, heart and hands”. I find the philosophy of constructivism appealing, that people create their own understanding […]
23 January 2017

STEM, STEM-Ed, STEAM and Statistics

STEM is a popular acronym in educational circles and is used to refer to careers and educational tasks. Though most know that the four letters stand for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, it can be difficult to pin down what exactly it means. In this post I suggest that there are two related uses of STEM as a description. STEM The term, STEM, originated in the USA in the late 1990s to describe specific careers and education for these careers. There seems to be no universally agreed-upon definition of STEM. From a careers perspective, the focus is on making sure that […]
16 January 2017

The Class-size debate – it matters to teachers

Class size matters to teachers Class size is a perennial question in education. What is the ideal size for a school class? Teachers would like smaller classes, to improve learning. There is evidence of a small positive effect size due to reducing class size from meta-analysis published in John Hattie’s Visible Learning. But it makes sense, teachers argue – fewer children in the class means more opportunities for one-to-one interactions with the teacher. It makes for easier crowd control, less noise and less stress for teachers and pupils. And in these days of National Standards, it makes the assessment load more […]