3 July 2019

MEI Conference 2019

I was fortunate to have the opportunity to attend the MEI Conference from Thursday to Saturday last week. I normally only attend conferences at weekends and in the holidays so getting permission from work to attend a term-time conference was a rare treat. The last time I attended the MEI Conference was in 2015 - I blogged about it here.

Residential conferences are a very different experience to one day events. There’s more time in sessions to discuss ideas and do maths, and there’s more time outside of sessions to socialise, meet new people and chat about teaching. At lunch on Friday I sat with Ben Sparks plus Christopher Rath (@Rathematician) and his colleagues - they showed me cool maths stuff that I'd never seen before. So much fun. Since I got back I've been showing everyone my new tricks! Literally every time I see Ben Sparks he blows my mind with some clever maths magic. He did the same in his workshop on Saturday morning where we played a poker game in which I genuinely thought I had a full house – until I realised he’d rigged it. How does he do that…?

It was wonderful to stay for all three days of the conference - I loved every minute and felt incredibly relaxed hanging out on a university campus in glorious sunshine. The evening entertainment was top quality - the after-dinner speak Harry Baker was absolutely wonderful. Everyone was blown away by how lovely he was. Watch this video to get an idea, but go see him perform if you can (I first shared this video back in 2015 in Gems 26 so it was cool to actually meet him in person!).

I’d always assumed that the MEI Conference is aimed mainly at A level teachers but I found that there was a wide range of sessions to appeal to all secondary maths teachers. It had a bit of an academic feel to it in parts - particularly the first two plenaries. The first keynote was by Dr Eugenia Cheng (she’s my new hero) and second keynote was delivered by Professor Alison Etheridge – she delivered a fascinating lecture on genetics which made me feel like I was back at university! I love the high expectations that the organisers have of their audience - it’s wonderful to be immersed in intellectual challenge every now and then. Craig Barton’s keynote on the final day was brilliant, as always. He also had the coolest clicker I've ever seen. Did I mention that I’m running a course with Craig in October? You can book your place here.
One thing I like about the MEI conference is that there's a very different range of speakers from the events I usually attend so I get to hear lots of new perspectives. I recorded a conference podcast with Craig Barton on the Friday night (after a few glasses of wine…) so have a listen to that to hear some reflections on a few of the sessions I attended. I didn’t get a chance to speak about every workshop. In this blog post I’m just sharing a couple of things that I didn’t mention in the podcast that I thought teachers might be interested in.

Football Loci
Rob Eastaway (@robeastaway) ran a session called 'What's the difference between a puzzle and a maths question?' which was partly about how to turn a dull question into an interesting one. Something that really jumped out at me related to loci. We often see really contrived scenarios in loci questions but he shared a fascinating scenario that I loved.

Rob showed us a set of football rules from 1891, when the rules of the game were evolving. It said:
"The goals shall be upright posts, eight yards apart, with a bar across them eight feet from the ground.
When the ball is kicked behind the goal-line by one of the opposite side, it shall be kicked off by any one of the players behind whose goal-line it went within 6 yards of the nearest goal-post..."

Show pupils this and ask them what it would look like. Where can the player stand to take a goal kick according to these rules? Perhaps ask pupils to try to draw a scale drawing of it.

They should end up with a couple of arcs rather than the six yard box we are now so familiar with.

Once they've done this you can show them a picture of the 1901 FA Cup Final when Tottenham Hotspur played Sheffield United. There are arcs! It's very cool. The Wikipedia page on goal kicks says "In 1891, pitch markings were added to define the six-yard radius from each goal-post".

In 1902, the term 'goal area' was introduced for the place from which the goal kick was taken - it assumed its modern dimensions as a rectangle extending six yards from each goal post.

I loved this workshop and I think that this lesson on loci and scale drawing would go down really well.

Fascinating stuff from Rob Eastaway, as always.

Circle Theorems Chase
Tim Honeywill (@honeywilltim) led a session called ‘Expecting the Unexpected’ where he shared a pack of problems which are suitable for IGCSE and A level pupils. I love angle problems and there were a few in the pack, including this beauty called 'Crazy Circle Theorems'.

Tim's pack of questions contained loads of nice problems. Here are a few more examples:

Very kindly, Tim has let me share the whole set of resources from his workshop here. Thank you Tim!

Sectors of Circles
I ran a workshop on resources in which I talked through the process of planning a sequence of lessons on sector area. I showed a large number of places we can go to get resources including some classics such as SMILE. I talked about different types of task and discussed how they meet different purposes.

For this workshop I made a new Fill in the Gaps task on sector area (extract pictured below) which is intended to be used as part of the initial instruction phase. The idea is that pupils develop an understanding of how to identify what fraction of the circle is required, and make connections between sectors of different sizes. I also decided that I wanted to get pupils more comfortable with sketching diagrams, so I included that in the task. If you use this resource, let me know how you get on.

There's lots more I could say about the MEI Conference but to keep this post to a manageable length I will leave it there. Thank you to everyone - speakers, delegates and organisers - who made it so fantastic. Well done MEI! Great work.

Hanging out with Chris Shore and Tom Bennison

The next residential maths education conference I attend will be the MA Conference 2020 which involves two nights away at a spa hotel in the Easter holidays – I’m looking forward to it already!

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