Secondary Insets/Workshops/Conference Talks

Five unusual things to try out in a maths lesson 

Want to provoke curiosity in your students?  Then why not try out something different in your next lesson.  This workshop introduces five curiosities that could be just the thought-provoking activity that your students are looking for.  There are lots of options, but here's one possible selection of five: The Greek alphabet;  hilly road signs; a mind-reading trick; a mental arithmetic shortcut; and a card game.  It opens up a discussion about the importance of surprise, humour and mystery in teaching maths.

Mathematical Games - Problem Solving without the Pain

Everyone loves a good game, and the best games are perfect for engaging a mixed ability class in mathematical thinking. This workshop is a chance to discover some fascinating new games and to gain fresh insights into some familiar ones. Along the way there is some proof, probability, permutations - and of course, problem-solving.

When Maths Meets the Humanities 

Different school subjects often operate in silos, and it is particularly rare for maths teachers to work with humanities teachers.  But it doesn't have to be this way.  History, art, languages, music, literature and geography all have mathematical connections.  This workshop looks at imaginative ways in which maths teachers could collaborate with other departments, so that students can begin to understand the way that maths underpins almost everything.  

The Importance of Puzzles in Problem-Solving

Puzzles may sound like end of term fun, but used properly they can be used to teach some of the most important aspects of problem-solving, from simplifying the problem to challenging assumptions. This workshop is entirely dedicated to puzzles that can intrigue and inspire teenagers of all abilities. Most of these are 'low threshold' puzzles where children of all abilities can contribute to solutions, and where common sense plays as important a role as mathematical flair. Rob is the puzzle adviser and occasional setter for New Scientist magazine and has learned the hard way what differentiates a good puzzle from one that provokes the response "Who Cares?".

Maths on the Back of an Envelope

The convenience and speed of calculators has led us to believe that a number is only right when it is quoted to several decimal places. But maths is not always about getting precisely the right answer - and often a rough answer can offer more insights. This is a talk (or workshop) about everday estimation and about Fermi questions - the art of working things out when you aren't given any data.  From working out the chance of unusual coincidences, to a quick method for answering a vintage Who wants to be a Millionaire? question, Rob guides you through maths that can be done on the back of an envelope.

Arithmetricks - The Forgotten Art of Arithmetic

According to a statistic that I just made up, only 3% of school leavers can square the number 39 in their head. Well why would they need to? They have a calculator to do that. Thanks to calculators and spreadsheets, mental arithmetic is something of a forgotten art. Yet good arithmetic can give you a richer understanding of algebra and number, as well as being a skill that can be invaluable when thinking on your feet as an adult. This workshop is a chance to try out and share arithmetic methods and short-cuts ancient and modern.

The Hidden Maths of Sport

What is the best tactic for taking a penalty? Should a 1500 metre athlete lead the pack or hover at the back? Why do sports rankings sometimes throw up spurious results? And where's the best place to aim on a dartboard? Rob looks at the hidden maths behind a range of sports, with ideas for investigations that will provide great enrichment for sports fans in the classroom.

Pick a Card, Any Card

Once upon a time, GCSE probability and combination questions were allowed to feature packs of playing cards. These days - because so many teenagers are unfamiliar with playing cards - we have to make do with contrived stories about Hannah and her sweets. This workshop is a reminder that a simple deck of 52 cards is one of the best self-contained maths kits you can get.  You'll encounter a range of games, puzzles, tricks and curiosities that contain a multitude of mathematical ideas, but with a magical twist.

Ah, Aha and Haha

Anyone would find maths exciting if it regularly made them react with an "Ah", "Aha" or "Haha". This workshop concentrates exclusively on the puzzles, games, tricks and curiosities in maths that Rob has found will engage and excite even the most disaffected teenagers, and spark their curiosity to learn more about what maths has to offer.

The Minefields of Mathematical Modelling

What’s the hardest part of maths for a teenager? Is it solving simultaneous equations or proving geometrical theorems? Maybe it’s neither ofthese things, because when it comes to solving real world problems, the most challenging part is often working out what maths is involved in the first place. In this engaging talk, Rob uses a range of problems from tying shoelaces to passing a rugby ball to examine the skills andpitfalls of mathematical modelling.

Maths Improvisation

Sometimes the best opportunities for learning maths arise spontaneously, when a teacher taps into a news story or topical event that has grabbed the public interest. There might be a maths discussion to be found in a freak lottery win, a dramatic sporting contest and even an incident in an episode of a TV drama. Using regular household objects and TV clips, Rob demonstrates in this workshop how the best maths can sometimes be found where you are least expecting it, and offers tips on how to incorporate more improvisation into your lessons.