“Flipping the theatre” is the future of drama

For thousands of years the orthodox dogmas in the world of theatre have given actors and directors a privileged position, able to impose their own interpretations on the material. Many actors have employed this privilege to indulge in power-trips in which they demand slavish attention from their audiences, even prohibiting the use of mobile devices and multitasking activities during a theatrical “performance”. But a brave new movement is challenging this orthodoxy, empowering theatre-goers as co-creators of the drama and transforming the nature of theatre. A pioneer in the new “flipped theatre movement”, Prof. Nicholas Bottom, Director of the Association for Sylvan Studies, explains the philosophy behind it. Continue reading

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What does “challenging” mean, exactly?

In the coverage of the Principal Assessor’s report on the new Higher Maths paper, the key word was “challenging”, applied particularly to the infamous crocodile question. Needless to say, the various online stories don’t provide a link to the report from which this rather loaded word was taken; as the documentation is a little tricky for outsiders to locate on the SQA website, here are some direct links.

I spent a happy couple of hours hacking my way through these, and though I was slightly more reassured than I expected, I fear that whitewash is being slapped across some serious cracks in the brickwork. Continue reading

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More educational unspeak

This latest instalment of Malvolianism has to rest on hearsay; I wasn’t at the meet-the-nomenklatura session involved, for which I am profoundly thankful. Having been exhorted to make further and greater efficiencies in our teaching practice, a colleague asked how this was to be achieved given the University’s policy of replacing our big teaching rooms with a larger number of smaller rooms — an arrangement, one might naïvely think, which whatever its other merits does nothing for efficiency. The response, apparently:

You shouldn’t be thinking in terms of classes, but of co-creation events with students on their journey.

If anyone has the first idea what this means, or in what sense it was supposed to be an answer to the question, please write it on a postcard and send it to somebody who can cope with this tosh.

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Suvat’s formulae

When I started teaching Newtonian mechanics, I was initially puzzled by the references that my students made to “Suvat’s formulae”. Like many mathematicians, I had assumed that the name of these formulae was purely an acronym; however, I was curious enough to do a little research on the subject. To my surprise, my students were correct, although the originator of the formulae, Cédric Gaspard Suvat, is little known even to Francophones and almost completely neglected in the English-speaking world. The most accessible biography appeared a few years ago in the Bulletin of the Poldavian Academy of Sciences, and although this periodical unfortunately doesn’t appear online they were kind enough to give me permission to publish a translation. Here it is. Continue reading

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On the banks of denial: the Higher Maths “crocodile” question

“Come hither, Little One,” said the Crocodile, “for I am the Crocodile,” and he wept crocodile-tears to show it was quite true.

Rudyard Kipling, Just So Stories: The Elephant’s Child.

The new-look Higher Maths hasn’t got off to the best of starts. The exam this May provoked an unusual degree of outrage: teachers reported some of their strongest pupils leaving the room in tears, while a social-media storm among students led rapidly to a petition against the difficulty of the exam and culminated in questions to the First Minister. At the root of much of the dismay was a question about a crocodile. Continue reading

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Is this the best essay ever written about university education?

I first came across Plutarch’s essay On Listening to Lectures when seeking the origin of that irritating little saw — beloved of teacher-blamers and all the “haven’t you thought of trying to make it interesting for them?” crowd — to the effect that “education is not the filling of a bottle but the lighting of a fire”. Since then I’ve returned to the essay, and even drawn from it for a CPD talk to new maths lecturers. While the title of this post may be a little hyperbolic, Plutarch still has a few things to teach lecturers, and still more to teach students, today.[1] Continue reading

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Don’t disturb my circles

Every working mathematician knows that if one does not control oneself (best of all by examples), then after some ten pages half of all the signs in formulae will be wrong and twos will find their way from denominators into numerators.

The technology of combatting such errors is the same external control by experiments or observations as in any experimental science and it should be taught from the very beginning to all juniors in schools.

— V. I. Arnol’d, On teaching mathematics.

The latest addition to my collection of howlers and horrors arrived just too late for the Pi Day celebrations, which is a shame. The context was a “show that” homework question in which the target answer was something like “k = 20\pi”. The solution evolved by one second-year student — actually it appeared in four different scripts, but I’m assuming they were not entirely independent — made a simple calculus error to arrive at k = 40, and concluded

k = 40 = 20\pi, \quad \rm{when} \quad \pi = 2.

(Technically speaking, I suppose this is correct. However…) Continue reading

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