Mathemagic! CPD Webinar: A Review

On Saturday 9 April, I was lucky enough to attend a webinar entitled ‘Mathemagic!’ with Steven Lyon and Michael Anderson.

How can we get our students engaged or ‘hooked in’ on a topic like algebra? For those who enjoy some showmanship - and, really, what did we go into teaching for if we didn’t? - Steven and Michael suggest a bit of magic to wow our charges, and make a little fun out of our lesson.

We started with some ‘Think of a Number’ type tricks. A lot of the Maths Scholars were feeling clever and trying to do the algebra at the same time as answering the question. So, when Michael announced that we should now have four as our answer, almost all of us did… Ideally, our students would be caught up in the wonder of the magic, amazed by their brilliant maths teacher’s stunning mind-reading abilities, and not trying to second-guess that we’re using this to get them to think algebraically as we all were.

Quite seriously, for this to be an effective way to get students thinking algebraically, students have to be reasonably comfortable with algebraic notation and manipulation before being shown how we can write ‘think of a number and double it’ as being equivalent to writing ‘2x’.

But if they can grasp the algebraic explanation as to why the tricks work, they can enjoy trying the same tricks with friends and family at home.

We also looked at a domino trick, disguising the idea that all two-digit numbers can be written in the form 10a + b for integers a and b such that 0<a<=9 and 0<=b<=9.

Finally, we looked at some tricks involving check digits in credit card numbers, which has to do with security and cryptography, so links to PSHE and looking after your data online. Well within the grasp of KS4 students, this is arguably something that should be taught to everyone at school. 

The examples became more suitable for older students as the webinar went on, but in all cases, the learning will be most effective not only when students are enthused and intrigued as to how their teacher could ‘read their mind’ but importantly, when students are able to understand the explanation as to why the trick works. 

I am looking forward to being able to incorporate these and possibly some of the other resources signposted on STEM Learning with my classes in the future.

It is a bit of fun, but as with all the best fun, it is really quite important.

By Clare Fitzsimmons


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