Plus Blog

December 15, 2008
Monday, December 15, 2008

GCSE maths overhaul

The government has revealed plans for a new maths GCSE to become available in 2010, as well as a pair of twinned maths GCSEs to be introduced in 2015 — over ten years after their recommendation by Adrian Smith in his Making mathematics count report. The twinned GCSEs are designed to give students a broader grounding in mathematics, with one GCSE, dubbed "formal mathematics" focusing on the rigorous and coherent nature of mathematics, and the other, entitled "contextual mathematics" focusing on the application of mathematics in real life. Both GCSEs are intended to be qualifications in their own right, which students study for in two separate two-year courses. The idea is that the majority of students will study for both GCSEs, and that those who obtain both qualifications will be well equipped for further study of maths. It is hoped that the twin set-up will provide more challenge for able students, while more fairly rewarding those at the lower end of the ability spectrum. It is also hoped that the new GCSEs will move students away from the parrot approach to learning maths, which focuses on regurgitation rather than understanding.

The Advisory Committee on Mathematics Education (ACME), which helped devise the new GCSEs together with the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA), has welcomed the government's announcements, but criticised the time scale. "We are puzzled at the proposed time scales for rolling out the pair," said Dame Julia Higgins FRS, Chair of ACME, "To wait until 2015 for first teaching, with first awards being nine years from now is simply too protracted. Efforts must focus on bringing forward the date for rollout of the pair". Dame Julia also criticised the introduction of the new single GCSE, expressing fears that it will undermine the double option while not delivering its benefits.

Adrian Smith's 2004 report delivered a damning verdict on the state of mathematics education in the UK, and predicted that a shortage of maths skills in the work force could have dire consequences for the UK economy. Commenting on the impact of the GCSE time scale, Dame Julia said: "The UK economy will face the consequences of millions of students over the next nine years sitting a single GCSE which will not deliver the deeper understanding of mathematics and its applications that is desperately required". ACME's concerns, as well as its welcome of the new twin option, were endorsed by the two main mathematics bodies in the UK, the London Mathematical Society and the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications.

posted by Plus @ 10:51 AM

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December 10, 2008
Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The two major events over the last couple of months have been the credit crunch and the US presidential election. We take a mathematical view of both of these, muse over the surprising effectiveness of maths when it comes to describing the world we live in, and scrutinise some mathematical philosophy. Plus the usual mix of news, reviews and podcasts.

Read issue 49 of Plus!

posted by Plus @ 3:10 PM

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December 1, 2008
Monday, December 01, 2008

The science of complexity

What do the human brain, the Internet and climate change have in common? They're all hugely complex, and while they're very different, the tools used to grapple with this complexity are likely to be similar. We visited the Cambridge complex systems consortium, dedicated to building an over-arching science of complexity, and talked to neuroscientist Ed Bullmore, mathematician Frank Kelly and climate scientist Hans Graf about their take on complexity. Listen to the podcast of the interviews.

This podcast accompanies the article Catching terrorists with maths.

Hear more!

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posted by Plus @ 11:43 AM

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December 1, 2008
Monday, December 01, 2008

Heavenly threesome

Tonight sees a rare astronomical event: the Moon, Venus and Jupiter can all be seen close to each other in the same region of the night sky. In fact, Venus just passed behind the Moon! Over the next few nights, clouds permitting, you'll be able to see them slowly moving apart — get out your telescopes and look out for bright objects near the Moon!

posted by Plus @ 6:01 PM

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At 1:23 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh noes, missed it! Please can you post the skywatching tips well in advance.

BTW, they won't be near the moon for long.

 
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December 1, 2008
Monday, December 01, 2008

The recent news of the great Indian batsman Sachin Tendulkar surpassing West Indian Brian Lara's record number of test runs has given maths-loving cricket geeks another opportunity to pull out their calculators and Excel spreadsheets. Marc West is openly one of these nuts and did just that.

Read more...

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posted by Plus @ 3:05 PM

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November 25, 2008
Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Say cheese! First ever images of exoplanets.

Astronomers using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope have taken the first visible-light snapshot of a planet orbiting another star. Estimated to be no more than three times Jupiter's mass, the planet, called Fomalhaut b, orbits the bright southern star Fomalhaut, located 25 light-years away in the constellation Piscis Australis, or the "Southern Fish." An immense debris disc about 21.5 billion miles across surrounds the star. Fomalhaut b is orbiting 1.8 billion miles inside the disc's sharp inner edge, and is 1 billion times fainter than the star.

In a separate development, Canadian scientists have used ground-based telescopes in Hawaii and Chile to take infrared images of three giant planets they believe are orbiting a star about 130 light-years away in the Pegasus constellation.

These are not the first examples of exoplanets — planets orbiting stars outside our own solar system — but Formalhaut b is the first that can actually be observed in visible light wavelengths. All others have been detected indirectly, for example through the wobble their gravitational pull induces on their star.

To find out more about the new discovery, and see more images and videos, visit the Hubble Site. There is more information on exoplanets in general on physicsworld.com and in the Plus article Brave young worlds.

posted by Plus @ 11:25 AM

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