Magazine article Mathematics Teaching

18 Correlation Street

Magazine article Mathematics Teaching

18 Correlation Street

Article excerpt

The mathematical soap opera that is my classroom ...

Pupils' Laws

For certain mistakes, the weary teacher may sometimes feel like clubbing a student to a slow and painful deatii. Andrew, a bright but sloppy student a year and half into his A- Level course, offered me this die other day:

"I've cancelled the x's," was his hurt explanation, as he tried to fathom why I was weeping in a heap beneath the whiteboard. Yet there are other times when a teacher's desire to brandish a red biro like St George's lance can be a little hasty. The other day, I was marking Luke's work on elastic impact. I came across this:

This is because e = (angle of rebound)/ (angle of inmcidence)

I'd never seen anything like this before, and it brought me up short. "This can't be true!" I murmured, and indeed, it gave completely the wrong answer. I wrote a harsh comment - 10 are busking this, Luke!' - awarded no marks, and ploughed on. But there was sometiiing in his bravura that niggled. I decided to bring it up in the lesson.

"I wonder if we could examine Luke's Law for a minute."

Ears perked up around the room. There is nothing students love more that the idea that one of their number might have come up with a new law, sometiiing that might just feature in future textbooks for millennia to come, bringing its author a slice of immortality along the way.

"Luke, how did you discover this?"

"To be honest, Jonny, I was making stuff up," said Luke, surprising me witii his frankness. "But it just felt right"

And a little exploration revealed his intuition to be (almost) spot-on. …

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