Thursday 12 April 2012

Maths Events

Notice of some interesting maths events coming up over the next few months.

LMS Popular Lectures

Each year, the LMS Popular Lectures feature two lecturers, who have been chosen for their mathematical distinction. Usually, there is one pure mathematician and one applied mathematician.

The London Mathematical Society will be hosting its annual Popular Lectures 2012 on Tuesday 26 June in London and Wednesday 26 September in Birmingham. These events are free and this year is the lectures' 30th anniversary. This year's prestigious speakers are Professor Tim Gowers FRS (University of Cambridge) speaking on "Can anything be salvaged from the wreckage of Hilbert’s dream?" and Professor Sir Roger Penrose FRS (University of Oxford), who will discuss "On Attempting to Model the Mathematical Mind".

Institute of Education, London, Tuesday 26 June
King Edward School, Birmingham, Wednesday 26September
Professor Tim Gowers FRS (University of Cambridge)
Can anything be salvaged from the wreckage of Hilbert’s dream?
Could we program a computer to do maths at least as well as we do it? This is a formidable challenge, for reasons that Tim Gowers will discuss, but despite the difficulties he will try to persuade you that the answer is yes.!

Professor Sir Roger Penrose FRS (University of Oxford)
On Attempting to Model the Mathematical Mind
In this talk, Roger Penrose introduces the idea of a 'cautious oracle' as a more human version of Turing's oracles (a way of modelling the mathematical mind). He reports on some startling new experiments, which appear to point to new insights into brain activity, and he speculates on how this might relate to the power of human understanding.

London: commences at 7pm, refreshments at 8pm, ends at 9.30pm.
Birmingham: commences at 6.30pm, refreshments at 7.30pm, ends at 9pm.

To register for free tickets, email Lee-Anne Parker or complete and return a downloadable registration form. Please register by Thursday 21 June (London), or Friday 21 September (Birmingham).

MEI Summer One Day Courses for teachers

Mathematics in Education and Industry (MEI) is running two free one-day courses for students this summer as part of their Integrating Mathematical Problem Solving project. Both these courses are free, but the number of spaces available is limited.

The Language of the Universe takes place at the National STEM Centre at York on 22 June, and is suitable for teachers of A-level STEM subjects, who want to help their students understand better how mathematics is used in solving scientific problems.

Everybody Counts takes place at the University of Leeds on 4 July. It will be suitable for teachers of A-level geography, psychology, sociology, economics and business who want to help their students cope better with the mathematical and statistical demands of further study.

Tuesday 3 April 2012

Gove Wants Universities to Set A-Level Exams

GCE Advanced Level logo by University of Cambr...
A-Level logo by University of Cambridge International Examinations (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Education secretary Michael Gove is talking again.

He has made pronouncements on the A-Level system before, alluding to his dislike of modular examinations and stating that the overall standard was not high enough.

Now, there appears to be some flesh on the bones. In a letter to Ofqual, Mr Gove has outlined his plans that the universities should have a greater role in setting the A-Level exams.

It should be noted that these changes will only apply in England in the first instance; it will affect Northern Ireland and Wales insofar as some pupils study towards the exams of the English boards. Scotland will be largely unaffected.

Currently all A-Level curricula are designed carefully, with knowledge of what came before. Any topic studied at A-Level, without the correct groundwork at GCSE, is going to present problems. Without the correct pre-requisite understanding, such teaching could damage confidence and reduce learning, not improve it. Universities will need to employ a whole new cohort of specialists who understand the school curriculum, as well as what is required in a variety of university courses.

This would not simply be a change to our A-Levels. If Gove's plans come through, more demanding A-Levels will require better prepared pupils as they make that transition from GCSE. And this means, in turn, that those pupils will need to be better prepared for GCSEs. Such a shake-up will have implications for the whole of secondary education.

Allowing universities to have a greater input in post-16 exams is a good idea in principle, since the universities can see that a lot of their students are arriving without the necessary skills and understanding. The universities understand what is required.

But this is an enormous change and it will be painful. There will be jobs lost, new jobs created; there will be some pupils caught in the transition who will, no doubt, suffer. There will be changes to teaching methods (perhaps universities will want to have a say in these as well?) and disquiet in the teaching profession. There will be upheaval on a grand scale. And if put in motion, the changes will be too large to be rolled back by any future government. If you are due to sit A-Levels in 2016, life suddenly looks rather different.

Again, it is a case of: be careful what you wish for.