Wednesday, 2 June 2010

The Maths Teacher's Paradox (or why some of our best teachers might be failing their students)

I've been sat in front of this blank blog page for a while now wondering how I'm going to start this piece, and I've decided to start with a quote, given to me over a decade ago which I will always remember.  It was told to me by a very wise man, who happened to be the headmaster at a school I was being interviewed for.  He said to me:

In life, every person you meet you will be better then them at 10 things at the very least, but never forget that same person will be better then you at 10 different things at least.

It's something I take remember during my life, and will probably take to my grave and it's nice to share it with the world.

Having said that though, in my opinion there are two people in life, people who naturally understand algebraic concepts, and those who do not.

One of my closest cousins is currently undertaking a teaching degree, and she unfortunately is one of the people who struggle with maths, especially algebraic concepts (but boy you should see her ride a horse she is awesome!).  Fortunately for her I am pretty good at maths (but can't ride horses!!), and yesterday I got a message from her asking for help.  She was doing science coursework relating to the Simpson's Diversity Index, and was asking if I could simplify the maths for her, so she could understand it.  Instantly I panicked, having never even heard of the Simpson's Diversity Index I though I was going to be of no help.  I instantly got onto Google, and found the formula:

Now to the untrained eye, that would look pretty terrifying.  There are a lot of letters in there and not many numbers.  When I tell you the D is the diversity index (which ranges between 0 [meaning no diversity], and 1 [meaning infinite diversity]), n is the total number of organisms within a particular species, and N is the total number of organisms of all species; we should realise that this is mostly a simple matter of substituting numbers for letters and then solving for D (Sigma - the greek letter just means sum of (so we need the sum of all the n(n-1)s)

So, us people who naturally understand maths, or those that have just had a lot of practice can look at that formula and instantly realise that the Simpson's Diversity Index is actually a fairly simple formula.

After going through this formula, and writing out 3 pages of notes on it to try and simplify it for my cousin, I decided to offer my services to her, if she needs it.  She will be going into her final year soon, and if she needs to understand maths better I have offered to give her some tutoring (assuming I have time) over the summer in basic/intermediate algebra.  Why did I offer this? Because I truely believe that anyone can learn algebra.  All you need for algebra is to learn a bunch of rules, and then have plenty of practice.

Which got me thinking, if that's all you really need to do, why does my cousin struggle with it?  She's bright, and intelligent, so there must be something underlying that confuses her; so I racked my brain and  think I came up with the answer.  It's the letters, that's what people don't understand...the letters!! Maths is about numbers; where are all these letters coming from.  That's when I came up with what I have called the "Maths Teacher's Paradox", I don't know why I called it that, it just kinda sounds cool I suppose.

The Paradox

When I was thinking back through my past, especially my maths tuition, I was never told the why or the what of the letters, I just understood we had to work them out...I naturally understood algebra.  Some people do not naturally understand algebra remember, and last night I found myself for the first time actively thinking about what the letters mean.

I don't know if this was just my teaching experience, but I would guess that most people are never told (especially early on in their maths life) what the point of the letters are for.

We are never just sat down and told all in one swoop:

Where there is a letter in a maths problem, it is still representative of a number, and it can mean a few different things:

1.  That we don't know what the number is, and we need to find out what that number is - as in; 3 + b = 7; what is b? We need to solve for b, and we obviously get 4.

2.  That the numbers are variable, and therefore one single formula is needed, which we can change the numbers for depending on our dataset, and then solve for one letter, as in the formula bellow, or the most famous being: y = mx + C our famous graphical equation, where m and C are constants (i,e, being any number you wish, to make the correct graph), then we substitute 1 then 2 then 3 then 4 then 5 etc as the x (for our x axis), and that gives us the points on the y axis to make the graph

3.  The numbers are either very, very big, or very, very small.  That is to say that in a formula it is far easier to put in a c, instead of 12349533172331 as a just makes it easier to read...

4.  The letter represents a known constant, in astrophysics equation you might find yourself with a c, this could in actuality be the speed of light, a constant and something you do not need to solve for

5.  Where the letters are representative of a number, but also have a meaning behind them; d = s x t - this is a famous formula which means Distance = Speed x Time

......we are just expected to evolve our learning to understand these concepts

So why are we never told this?  Probably for the same reason I've never thought about it before.  Presumably (and hopefully - although saying that someone I know did a geography degree and during her interview for her PGCE she couldn't point out where the North Sea was...she's now a geography teacher...), maths teachers become maths teachers because they're good at maths!  Which means, like me, they've probably never even thought about the letters, the why and the what, they've always just understood the how.  How to get the maths to work, without needing to have it explained to them, what the point of all the letters actually are.

Unfortunately not all people are like that like I've said before, and I think if somebody turned round and really explained to the people who don't fully understand the concepts of algebra, the why, and the what of all these letters it would be easier for them to understand.

Hopefully this makes sense, and is merely speculative from my own experiences of 1-to-1 tutoring, and my own maths lessons when I was first learning algebra.  Very good maths teachers, are too good to see the struggles faced by some of the kids, and they need to take it back to the very basics at the start of algebra tuition so that the people with lower ability to just "pick it up" can fully understand not just the rules around algebra, but the actual reasons behind it.

Much love to you all,


Wednesday, 19 May 2010

The Human Rights Act, is it THAT important anyway?! Some Law and Facts to ponder

Right...there has been a lot of talk in Jolly old England recently about our new government repealing the Human Rights Act, understandably this has got quite a few people hot under the collar; a few things you hear around is “how can a government take away our human rights”, or questions on dictatorial states, or most sickeningly one person saying “I'm sure this is how Nazi Germany started” that person, if you read this:

a) Stop reading the Daily Mail
b) No that is not how Nazi Germany started...

Anyway, I'm gonna put up a little disclaimer here, just like pretty much anything you read on the internet, do not take this as 100% fact, do some research or something if your that bothered. I am currently in the process of my second law postgraduate course, so am by no means an expert, and it's been a few months since I've done EC Law and I'm going from memory so don't get all uppity...but as far as I'm aware this is correct.

Now to put your minds at rest: Does repealing the Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA) have the effect of removing your human rights?!


Firstly a brief history, in 1953 the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) came into force. All member states of the European Community (EC) are expected to adhere to it, and new members are expected to ratify it at the earliest opportunity, I'm not going to go through the full details about the ECHR, but there are various articles in it relating to, can you believe it, yours and my Human Rights.

Now in 1998, we decided to fully enshrine the ECHR into our legal system using the HRA. The aim of the HRA was/is to “give further effect” to the ECHR. It makes it unlawful for any public body to act in a way which is in contravention of the ECHR, and it makes UK judges in courts to take into account any judgements made by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), and to interpret British legislation to give effect to the ECHR. There are other issues in the HRA, involving the creation of legislation to be compatible with the ECHR as well, but these are the important issues. Essentially, the HRA confers power to the individual to rely on the ECHR in the British courts.

Wait a minute, I hear you cry, this sounds very bad...repealing the HRA, is taking away my power to rely on my Human Rights... isn't, only in the British Courts. We have still signed up to the ECHR, and therefore our government, our judges, our legal system, et al. have to respect those rights, and they have to still be given to us. Remember that we signed up to the ECHR in 1953, and the HRA 1998 (which mostly came into force in 2000) was almost 50 years later. Does that mean in those 50 years the ECHR was pointless? Of course not, in those years:

  1. Firstly, because we'd signed up for the ECHR the courts took the view that it was an important source of public policy where the ECHR was necessary to determine such issues

  2. Secondly, the courts took the ECHR into account when dealing with matters of interpretation of legislation where it was reasonable to do so.

  3. Thirdly, (and perhaps importantly), where there was an absence of statutory provision the court could take into account the ECHR when developing common law.

So even during those 50 years where we didn't have the HRA, the court still read British Law to give effect to the ECHR.

The problem we have next is about the HRA enshrining the Convention into British Law, and then giving rights to the individual. Ok, admittedly this is a pain, it would mean that trying to make Human Rights point, which would ordinarily have been governed by the HRA or ECHR would not be possible in British Courts, but that is not to say you don't have a remedy.

Remember the ECtHR? A person from a member state can make an application there if they feel they have had their Human Rights infringed. There are only 3 requirements that you need to fulfil:

  1. That you have been a victim of a violation of one or more of your Convention rights

  2. You have persued any remedies that are available in the member state; while the Human Rights Act 1998 is in force, that would mean using that act through the national courts. If this act gets repealed, you may not have any remedies, and would therefore be entitled to skip this step.

  3. You must have made your application within 6 months of either the judgement being passed in your court case (especially in relation to no.2 above), or if there was no remedy available within 6 months of the alleged violation.

...and that's it. It is that simple to make an application to the ECtHR. Ok, admittedly it'll be a slow long process, but most Human Rights related court procedures are anyway.

So, hopefully this will show at least a little bit, that repealing the HRA is not the end of the world. It is a pain in the arse of course, but it doesn't mean that you will be losing your Rights. I'm not saying I agree that it should be repealed, and I'm not saying it shouldn't; I've tried to be as politically neutral as possible, and just lay down some facts. Hopefully I've got all the facts straight in my head, but most importantly of all:

If the HRA '98 does get repealed, you will still have a remedy under European Law if you think there has been a breach of your human rights!! :)

Thank you for listening, this has been a lecture by


Much love to you all! :) x

Thursday, 13 May 2010

I'm still alive!! Alternate top 3 g33k films!

Hey world, sorry not updated for a while, so here is a little update today just so you know I'm still around! Been totally swamped with my postgrad course at the moment so not had masses of time to watch/read anything to review or anything else like that.  Today is going to be a list day! I was going through my DVD collection and there are some absolute corkers in there, some little known gems that some people may not have had the chance to see, I'm not going to do full reviews about these movies, just a brief description, hopefully you might get interested in a couple :o)
BTW do NOT expect Star Wars/Star Treks, or major g33k films to be in here, this is an alternative list, do not be a hater because Tron isn't number 1! :oP

Number 1: "Cyborg She":

The ultimate Geek date movie, Cyborg She is a touching movie about a lonely student called Jiro.  The day he turns 20 he is out on his own, at a restaurant when suddenly a beautiful young lady turns up.  They spend a few hours together, and he has one of the best days of his life.  However his happiness doesn't last, and she leaves him after a few hours.  One year later, he is alone again, spending his birthday in the restaurant and yet again this lady turns up; and one of the strangest love stories begin to unfold
This is a truely beautiful film, well directed, well made.  Poignant but lovely!  Watch it with your special geek lady!

Number 2, "Dark City":

John Murdoch wakes up in a strange hotel, to find out that he is wanted for a string of call-girl murders.  Most of his memories have disappeared, he can't even remember his wife; he embarks on a strange journey to try and unravel his past, and get his memories back.
Great directions, and great acting in this film.  It has been said that The Matrix got some of it's best ideas from this movie.  Keep an eye out for Richard O'Brien as well, that guy is a legend!

Number 3: "Kung Pow: Enter The Fist":

A legendary warrior wanders the land in the search of the murderous Master Pain in order to avenge the murder of his family.
This film is absolutely ridiculous, and something I wish I'd had the comedic talent to come up with.  The writer/director Steve Oedekerk has inserted new scenes, and redubbed an old kung-fu film, and even managed to insert himself into the film.  The result is a hugely funny movie! A total must see!

I might add some more to this list at some point, but in the meantime get your asses in gear and watch these movies!!! 3 different films, 3 different genres!! :oP Go get 'em!

Much Love


Saturday, 30 January 2010

Family Guy in Space!!...Blue Harvest

“This is the story of love and loss, fathers and sons, and the foresight to retain international merchandising rights...this is the story of Star Wars; Let's begin with Part 4...

...'A long time ago – but somehow in the future'”

I've been watching the Family Guy/Robot Chicken Star Wars Specials recently and decided I'd do a review about's been a while since I've blogged anything (life has been pretty busy!), so today is time for a bit of fun for us all. I just want to thank all my followers for sticking with me! :o)

I'm going to start with “Family Guy” Blue Harvest (from which my opening quote was taken!):

The first line you get of the actual Star Wars-y bit is when Leia's ship is being boarded and C-3P0 (Quagmire) says, “Do you hear that, it sounds like we're being boarded from the rear”, at this point you more or less realise what your going to get with this show, it's going be Family Guy...except in space, the jokes and humour aren't going to suddenly get deep and satirical, however...they are going to be funny!

Essentially a lot of the jokes within The Family guy Star Wars shows highlight little shortcomings in the movies, or perceived ridiculousness's...towards the beginning of Blue Harvest, C-3P0 and R2D2 escape in a pod; an officer on Vader's ship says to another soldier “Hold your fire there are no lifeforms aboard” to which the guy replies “hold your fire, what are we paying by the laser now?!”, to which is replied “you don't do the budget Terry, I DO!”'s pretty funny, and a lot of the scripting is like that!...or later on when talking about the Death Star one of the soldiers says its “Virtually indestructable, like 99.99%” to which Vader replies “Right, wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't ask what the point 01 is”...and Adam West [best Batman ever!!] is in this section!

….well that's no bigger then a womp rat!! w00t!

Or later on the in show “Let's head over to that small moon, that's clearly a small moon and nothing else”

Some of the jokes seem to have American references I just don't get, and some of the jokes are very pretty overworked but all in all it's made pretty well and is a great spoof.

In case you don't know EXACTLY what this is, it's more or less a spoof of Star Wars: A New Hope, Whereby, Stewey is Vader, Chris is Luke, Peter is Han Solo, Lois is Leia, and (as we've seen above) Quagmire is C-3P0. There are various other people popping up as different Star Wars characters, but I can't be bothered to type a full credits list for you!

I also think some of the spoiler references made throughout the show are pretty funny too, and normally make me laugh more then the other jokes in the movie. For example there is a reference to early 90s printers, which I don't think is particularly funny at all, and seems pretty forced, but right after that there's some great Star War's references, like when Luke says to his Aunt “One of these days, I'm just going to run away and join the rebellion whether you like it or not”, to which Aunt replies “over my burnt carcass”! Hahaha!

Or just after that, when Leia's message is played to Luke out of R2D2: “Help me Obi Wan Kenobi, you're our only hope”; Luke ponders: “She said Obi Wan Kenobi, I wonder if she means old Obi Wan Kenobi”...these are the bits the kind of jokes that are most funny I think.

The storyline to the whole show is OBVIOUSLY good, because the storyline is Star Wars, however it's been...refined I guess is a good enough word to use. They've shrunk the story down to get it into an hour (well just under an hour), and even then if you take out a lot of the jokes unrelated to the story itself, it probably cuts it down to about 40 minutes. To me this makes the program feel a little...disjointed, fast paced, and lacking in true depth. However, knowing enough about Star Wars I can fill in the gaps myself, but it would have been nicer if it would have been more detailed, perhaps even full feature length...just so they could have had more storyline, and detail, as well as all the jokes as well...'s just a shame that's all – no problems, no moaning or anything like that, it just would have been nice!!

The Family Guy writers make a lot of nice little references, or spot little bits and bobs within Star Wars that mere mortals like myself miss fully, and make jokes out of them, this is also clever, and adds a nice trivia set for people who like me; Star Wars g33ks, but not Nerds! Presumably they found this information by doing their research, but if they just knew this stuff, then good on them. Once interesting titbit is in the Cantina; Luke and Obi Wan first meet Han Solo, and he claims to be that his ship was the one the “Did the Kessel run in less than 12 parsecs”, what I never realised before though is that a parsec is actually a unit of measurement...not of time – so he's measuring a distance he did it in! Interesting huh?! For those who wish to know 1 parsec is equivalent to 3.08568025 × 10^16 metres; 3.26163626 light years; or 1.91735281 × 10^13 miles. The Kessel Run is actually a 18 Parsec Smuggler's root which (NB ^13 = to the power of 13; ^16 = to the power of 16):

Han Solo claimed that his Millenium Falcon "made the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs". A parsec was a unit of distance, not time. Solo was not referring directly to his ship's speed when he made this claim. Instead, he was referring to the shorter route he was able to travel by skirting the nearby Maw Black Hole cluster, thus making the run in under the standard distance. By moving closer to the black holes, Solo managed to cut the distance down to about 11.5 parsecs. The smuggler, BoShek, actually beat Solo's record in his ship, Infinity, but without cargo to weigh him down.

Anyway, I seem to have gone off topic a little bit (tends to happen quite a lot when I'm getting onto Star Wars don't panic!).

I really do like the nod to Tom Baker/Dr Who as well, that's pretty sweet!! :) and the Jump Cut jokes which Family Guy are famous for actually get better as the show goes on...and I do like the little News Guys being in the show briefly too (“Let's go over to Oli for the 5 day forecast, what's the weather gonna be like Oli?”... “SPACE WEATHER!”)

Towards the end of the film/family guy program as we should all well know the plan is to blow up the Death Star by shooting a laser down the hole...which is no bigger then a womp rat! The sequence is pretty nice all in all, but there's not much to say about's not particularly hilarious...there's a fat guy joke that's pretty funny, oh and there's “all wings check in”...of course:

There's some nice spoofings involved of various other movies and modern culture as well, as is typical of Family Guy, including (my favorite), one from Airplane; "I just wanted to say, good luck, we're all counting on you"!

Anyway, what can I tell you to finish this all off...? Personally, I prefer the Robot Chicken Star Wars episodes, to the Family Guy ones; what I do like about the Family Guy ones though is that they follow a story line. This one is good, the jokes are funny, but fairly typical of Family Guy...there is nothing that's truly hilarious – but they're definitely worth watching...I think there will always be arguments about which is better between the two, the skits in Robot Chicken are just hilarious, real laugh out loud funny, where as in Family Guy they're a little more subtle. To proove a point I will leave you with a [fairly poor quality I'm afraid] video of Peter & Chris “debating” RC v FG:

I hope you enjoyed this epic post! Much love to you all, and sorry for the major delay in posting! Oh and I'm sorry video quality tends to suck a bit...I'm just linking -- not my fault!

Love from