On Saturday I began the next module for my MA Maths Education called ‘Mathematics in context’ at the University of Chichester. When we were selecting our next classes this one was sold as something that would complement our understanding and implementation of functional Maths. If you are a teacher in the UK, you will know that this is a buzz-word that has different definitions depending on who you ask, so I thought it would be worthwhile to spend some time exploring the theoretical underpinning behind it.

I’m going to recount what happened during the sessions for my own memory and hope it might be useful to someone!

We started of defining functional Mathematics for ourselves. For what it is worth, my definition was ‘When we use the tools of mathematics to describe, predict, explain and explore real situations.’ This is evidently going to be a module wherein we do a lot of Maths and use that Maths as a vehicle to explore the theory that lies behind the processes that are involved.

We watched a clip from the BBC Learning Zone called Motocross at the Millennium Dome. My first reaction was to think about the initial questions that are thrown up by the clip and, indeed, when we watched it for a second time that is what we were encouraged to do. The clip was 7 minutes long so I’m not sure if this could be used as it is with a class – maybe sections of it would be better. We were then given about 40 minutes to explore on of the questions that we generated. We were given a data sheet on the Millennium Dome but that wasn’t necessary to answer my question.

My group looked at the parabolic motion of a motorbike as it made a jump. We had access to Geogebra but no graphing software so we played the clip, screen grabbed and then used paint to create a path. Then, we placed some string across the white board and measured points. I modelled the graph using the software while the others in the group used paper. We were trying to see if we could get the same answer using both methods. This would have been possible if we had have used Geogebra to generate the co-ordinates and I think I will do that the next time I teach C1. Really good simultaneous equations work and understanding of the parabola.

When we reflected on which mathematical processes we used it was hard to find any that weren’t covered. We used a template adapted from QCA (2007) Programme of Study: Mathematics and figured the only thing we didn’t do was relate this problem to other problems of its find.

We finished by thinking about who might be interested in this problem. We came up with game designers and programmers but beyond that is probably too esoteric. Would a motocross rider actually want to know the equation of his jump? How is that helpful to him?

I found the first session useful and was energised from it. I think this might have been because it overlapped with previous thinking I’d had, that I was able to follow a problem I was interested in and that I was able to use technology in a helpful way. I am trying to complete this module entirely without a printed page, so enjoyed using the iPad to support that. I could definitely see way I could use material from this session in my classroom and was encouraged to see I was already doing some of it.