Mathematics for Smart Dummies

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At this particular moment, with the general election just moments away, All Change Please! feels it would be inappropriate to indulge in Partly Political Posts because of the influence it might have on the millions of followers it doesn’t have. On the one hand, almost anything would be better for education than another term of the hopelessly unqualified Messers Mickey Gove and Nicky Morgove teaching the class, but on the other one has to wonder just how much better informed the other parties are.

Take this recent article that reports that Labour’s plans for all students to continue to take maths until the age of 18 are the “best protection against unemployment”. And apparently “Our future success as a nation depends on all young people taking maths to 18”, not to mention that “It is essential that everyone is mathematically literate in this scientific age”  – as a number of leading and in no way biased mathematicians predictably proclaimed with 110% certainty and no margin for error to an infinite number of decimal places.

Now this is fair enough if a student is going on into a technical or scientific area but the vast majority won’t be. When was the last time you factorised a quadratic equation involving a surd, constructed a perpendicular bisector and solved a linear inequality?

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“All I wanted to know is how much it would be for a cup of coffee…”

The problem is that the sort of Maths taught for GCSE, and presumably beyond, is not particularly interesting, exciting or relevant to the everyday maths skills that are actually needed in the typical workplace. And anyway, even then it seems to have completely escaped everyone’s notice that Siri (the vocal iPhone assistant) is more than capable of solving maths problems for you, and showing you how it worked it out. And, even better, there’s also Photomath, a free App that enables you to take a photo of an equation, and it will calculate it for you.

Now of course you can’t take a Smart Phone into a formal examination – but All Change Please! wonders if anyone has yet thought about the future need to also ban iWatches, which once they incorporate a camera, could unobtrusively run the Photomath app as you seemingly check to see how much time you’ve got left?

To be fair, Marcus du Sautoy’s remark above has, surprise surprise, been taken somewhat out of context. In this article he suggests a second maths GCSE course might:

 “…expose students to the big ideas of maths: concepts of infinity, the maths of symmetry, the challenge of prime numbers. It is finding out what maths is really about that might change the national mindset…”

“What will be important is making sure that the maths we expose students to is both relevant to their future and the future of our country.”

Although All Change Please! would like to suggest that the logic and rationality in the world he seeks needs tempering with a good dose of creativity and imagination as well. But what is quite clear is that the teaching – and examining – of maths needs a major 21st century overhaul.

Meanwhile the key maths skills that politicians probably need right now is the ability to furiously calculate the complex permutations of coalition party members they will need to work with in order to form the next government.

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6th May Update…

Would you believe it – someone just has:

Students ticked off by ban on watches in exams

Photo credits: Flickr / Mulan / Sean MacEntee / Mulan

Flowers in the Rain


This week it’s the unusual turn of Alan Titchmarsh to provide the provocation for the latest missive from All Change Please! In his recent Telegraph article he begins in potential prize-winning petunia fashion:

“It is surprising, but there are still some people in this world who think of apprenticeships as second-best, as a career path to be followed only by those unlucky enough to achieve grades that will not win them a place at university. It is a sentiment that is as inaccurate as it is flawed, and it has resulted, over the past 30 or 40 years, in a completely unbalanced workforce: a workforce lacking in practical skills and overpeopled by those with academic qualifications that have no relevance to their eventual employment.”

But then unfortunately his article starts to sprout a few weeds: “I bemoan the general lack of respect today for those who are good with their hands.”, which is followed later by references to a bouquet of “horticulture, thatching, building and wood-carving“.

It’s great that he is promoting the need for a drastic increase in the number and range of apprenticeships, but a shame that he mainly presents them in a 19th century way, associating them with rural crafts as activities that have always been portrayed as being essentially mindless and thus more suited to the non-academic amongst us: our hands do not work independently from our brains and our senses, but in close connection and interaction with them. Meanwhile in today’s world it’s the ability to create and communicate using the latest in material and production technologies that is the most sought after, alongside the ability to continually learn and update our skill-sets as things rapidly change.

What’s currently missing in education is a ‘Third Way’ that combines intellectual and practical creative and technical problem solving skills with an understanding of how the real world works – things that neither academia or many traditional purely craft-based apprenticeships currently provide. Such studies are not the most appropriate for everyone, but there are a sizeable number of bright and able, but non-academic, children who are going to miss out if – as appears to be happening at present – it becomes a two-way choice. Courses in Design and the Creative and Performing Arts used to provide such experiences and opportunities, but their second-rate valuation within the EBacc system and their increased academic content is diminishing their accessibility.

Surely we want all the plants and flowers in our garden to grow and bloom? And to do that we need to account for the fact that each variety develops and matures in different ways, at different times and in different conditions.

And here’s a post from someone who agrees!


Photo credit: Flickr / Tony Hammond

Election Re-sits Announced

Following today’s announcement that 11 year olds who fail their KS2 SATS will be required to continue to retake them again and again and again until they pass, All Change Please! has learnt that the Conservatives also plan to rush through new legislation to ensure they are returned to power in the forthcoming election.

According to a top secret, highly confidential memo specially leaked for All Change Please! readers’ eyes only, in future any member of the electorate who fails to vote Tory will be required to cast their vote again and again until finally they end up putting their X in exactly the right box, next to the Conservative candidate.

Sir Hugh Dingbat-Smythe (Con), an anonymous Tory spokesperson, explained: ‘There will doubtless be a few maverick loony-left marxists who will claim that we should take different styles of policy into account, but this would be a waste of time because we know for a fact that our policies are the only ones that work, and it’s just a matter of forcing everyone to agree with us.’

In a desperate attempt to behave as proper professional journalists All Change Please! contacted Barbara Sturgeon, the popular Radio 2 and Radio Kent presenter, who is believed to be no relation whatsoever to Nicola Sturgeon, the SNP leader, but she was unavailable for comment. We therefore turned to our pet Millipede, Ed, but he had gone out to stretch his legs so was unable to confirm or deny his response.

The case continues.

Just a spoonful of knowledge


While some of the newly set-up Free Schools aim to provide a more enlightened approach to teaching and learning, others offer a very traditional academic curriculum, providing a service to parents who for some mysterious reason want their children to suffer such an education. In these Free Schools knowledge acquisition and recall is the focal point of the curriculum, and facts and figures are regularly spoon-fed to students. Of course that’s great for getting good grades at GCSEs and A levels, but the problem is that when their pupils eventually get out into the real world they are going to find it doesn’t quite work like that, and they are likely to lose out in the employment market to applicants who can already demonstrate high levels of fluency in problem-solving and communication skills, IT capability and a willingness to collaborate and create.

But if a school is going to insist on offering and delivering an intensely academic approach, it might as well do it properly, which is what this free school appears committed to doing.

Here’s an extract from one of their Knowledge Organisers which ‘organise all the most vital, useful and powerful knowledge on a single page.’  This Year 7 example is taken from a unit on Apartheid South Africa that deals with ‘the timeline, activists, quotations and political and legal vocabulary.’

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Ignoring the fact that all the facts above can actually be easily found on the internet as and when needed in life, All Change Please! just couldn’t resist coming up with its own Teacher Training Knowledge Organiser taken from its Unit on the History of British Education:

Screen Shot 2015-04-01 at 20.56.14The fact is that there are just two facts everyone needs to take away after reading this post:

1. Nelson Mandela was central to the success of the South African Apartheid movement in the latter part of the 20th Century.
2. Michael Gove was central to the collapse of the English education system in the early part of the 21st Century.

Meanwhile the entirely fictitious All Change Please! Academy has commissioned a series of Knowledge Disorganisers in which completely random facts and figures are assembled together to promote thinking about completely new ways of creatively connecting the world together in the future.

Have a good Easter, that is if you are not too busy marking GCSE Coursework.


Image credit: Flickr/Ginny Washburn