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Maths Newsletter May 2017

In this issue

Featured Articles:

Coming Birthdays
Coming Events
Maths Beyond the Textbook

If you have any events or activities that you think would be of interest to the mathematics or maths education community why not get in touch at




With Maths week less than six months away it is time to begin the planning process and to decide how you are going to get involved in maths week.  With the ever strengthening focus on STEM Maths Week is more important than ever. Below find some ideas and advice.

We will look some interesting items concerning maths from around the world including Maths and Music and Maths and the Movies with the recent film Hidden Figures.  Furthermore, we have advice on Mindfulness for teachers - an interesting read by Erica Balfour.  Also it appears our last month’s guest blog on Actively Engaging Parents in Teaching Maths was a hit and for those of you that missed it you can still access it on our website. Colm Mulcahy's blog on The Irish Presence in the Mathematics Genealogy Project also provides very interesting food for thought.

Fidget Spinners: If you cant beat them join them!

The latest craze to hit our schools is the Fidget Spinner. Kids cant put them down and therefore they are a major distraction in the classroom. Many classes and schools have even banned them, but they present really interesting science and maths learning possibilities. The ER integration website looks at the use of Fidget Spinners and provides some interesting food for thought regarding how they could be used in the classroom. It looks at the use of Fidget Spinners in STEM projects and provides a documented example of how this can be done.  Another idea suggested by the site is to use the Fidget Spinners as spinners when discussing for example, probability or fractions as it acts as a buy in for students, thereby increasing their interest in the topic first hand. To read more about how we can make use of Fidget Spinners see here . To download the worksheets you need to sign up to the Erintegration website which as also other STEM related downloads.

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Maths Week - Where to start?

Maths Week 2017 is soon approaching and it is time to begin making steps regarding how you are going to get involved in this year's programme of events.  Last year was a huge success across the island of Ireland and this year we hope to build on last years success and to reach out to as many people as possible.  It is important to note that as you begin to think about participating in Maths Week that you realise your efforts are making this event the success story that it is. Maths Week is a global success story and several other countries and regions are talking to us about exporting the model.

It cant be overstated that much of the success of Maths Week lies in the hands of teachers/lecturers/mothers/fathers and the many more that help promote maths. The amazing work that is being done across the island allows Maths Week to reach so many people. Through your help again this year we are excited at the idea of captivating more people than ever before in maths activities.  Teachers might want to start planning now and might like to look at some useful guides on our website. We have a section  demonstrating how to organise Maths Week events in school.  We also have an interesting article which looks at the growth mindset and demonstrates how to develop problem solving in schools.  You can see here some of the  picture of the events that will take place between October 14th - 22nd 2017.

There are many different things that schools can do and we will feature some in each coming newsletter:

  • Check out advice on running in-school activities on our website here
  • SNAP Maths Fairs are a great activity for a whole class and the whole school can be engaged. This is an ideal activity for older primary but also may be a great activity in post-primary schools. It may be a good project for Transition Years to engage younger classes or local primary classes. See this link for more info and a video of a school in Dundalk that implemented it with great success with a Hallowe'en theme.


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Stress Management and Mindfulness

Last month’s article on stress management introduced the topic of mindfulness and how it may facilitate teachers alleviating stress during this busy time of year.  This month we are delighted to say that we have a very interesting blog by Erica Balfour explaining how mindfulness can be used, its benefits and how teachers can take small steps to introduce it in the classroom.  Erica has also provided us with some free guided meditations which we can access online. 

Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; with purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgementally. John Kabat Zinn

Life for teachers is particularly demanding, and it seems to me now more than ever. We know that school systems are overloaded and that teachers are suffering the consequences of very heavy work demands. Mindfulness meditation is a wonderful tool, supported by a growing wealth of evidence which demonstrates the many ways that this practice can reduce our stress.

Stress is insidious. It lurks beneath the surface and strikes when you least expect it, carrying with it accumulated stress from the past which can tip you over the edge.  Mindfulness is a gentle training that helps us change the quality of our attention, we can manage to sense situations that cause stress. Instead of reacting in an automatic way, which often increases discomfort, it is possible then to create some space between us and the situation.

There are many ways in which you might weave some mindful awareness into your day. You might start your day with guided meditation.*  Even to begin your day with a few mindful breaths, just following the sensation of breath for a few cycles might just change the course of your mood. You might be mindful as you shower, or get dressed, all the physical sensations of movement and opening to your senses. Mindful of your feelings towards your family as you greet them and of theirs too. Mindful as you drive or walk to work, feeling the sensations of your feet or the steering wheel in your hands.

There is so much potentially to open out to in our daily lives and many small opportunities to insert a mini-meditation or two – like when you’re sat at the traffic lights, waiting for a kettle to boil, at the photo-copier!. At any point in your day you can drop down out of the world of thoughts in your head to connect with the breath. Follow the breath very consciously for 3 or 5 cycles, then carry on with what you were doing.

In the classroom an excellent way to ground ourselves and your pupils is to FOFBOC, which stands for ‘feet on floor, bottom on chair’. We just take a moment to notice the sensations of the soles of our feet connected to the floor (warm, tingling, socks on skin) and the sense of connection of our bodies on the chair, (pressure, warmth, weight going down) and there you have it – back in the present and a little more centered to begin again.

Mindfulness also teaches so much about working with the inner critic and being in relationship with difficulty in a more allowing and accepting way.  Most importantly we learn how to be kinder & more patient with ourselves.  Allow ourselves to make mistakes and to be constantly learning, just like our students.

Erica Balfour, Mindfulness Kilkenny.

*Click here for free guided meditations you can download

New mindfulness training for teachers here

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Weak at Maths = Danger

We have often bemoaned how frequently and casually public figures declare they were "never any good at maths". Recently UK Shadow Home Secretary, Diane Abbott’s had a very public difficulty with simple maths.  In a recent article, featured in the Irish Times, Lucy Kellaway pulls no punches on this and argues the dangers associated with being weak at maths. Do you think she is being too harsh or does this need to be said?
To read more see here

Maths and Music

The mathematician and philosopher Leibniz described listening to music as “the mind counting without being conscious that it is counting”.  This is an interesting thought and highlights the link between maths and music.  According to a Telegraph news article, music and maths has had a deep connection and has been around for two millennia. Ivan Hewett from the Telegraph  was inspired by a recent lecture by Maths Week regular Marcus Du Sautoy. The connection between maths and music was celebrated by Pythagoras, flourished in the Renaissance, and then faded away in the Age of Reason. Leibniz’s view was already dated when he uttered it. People had stopped looking to music for a beautiful image of the “mystical mathematics of heaven,” as Sir Thomas Browne called it. Psychology and meaning and emotions took over. But now maths is making a comeback....

Read more here


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Maths in the Movies

Earlier this year a maths movie came to our screens.  It is titled Hidden Figures and tells an interesting story of a team of African-American women - a mathematician, an engineer and a computer scientist - and how they helped America put a man into space. If you've seen the film perhaps you wondered about the maths. The film will be released for home viewing in July and perhaps you can see it then. Perhaps you could show it to a class and have a discussion about the maths and portrayal of women in maths.
Frequent presenter at Maths Week, Katie Steckles reviews this film on her website The Aperiodical ("The Aperiodical is a meeting-place for people who already know they like maths and would like to know more.")  
To read the review see here

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Further Recommended Reads


Is time travel mathematically possible?

Time travel is a mainstay of science fiction, but is it possible? There are many philosophical and physical objections, but what does the maths allow? According to a recent posting on time travel is mathematically possible.  
"After some serious number crunching, a University of British Columbia (UBC) researcher has come up with a mathematical model for a viable time machine. Ben Tippett, a mathematics and physics instructor at UBC's Okanagan campus, recently published a study about the feasibility of time travel." 
However dont go booking your holiday in the past or future just yet because according to Tippett, "HG Wells popularized the term 'time machine' and he left people with the thought that an explorer would need a 'machine or special box' to actually accomplish time travel. While is it mathematically feasible, it is not yet possible to build a space-time machine because we need materials—which we call exotic matter—to bend space-time in these impossible ways, but they have yet to be discovered."
To read more click here

There are a lot of interesting maths stories on the European Maths Society Raising Public Awareness website, Mathematics in Europe
Here are some of them:

2017 Abel Prize Winner
The Abel Prize is awarded annually to recognise “contributions to the field of mathematics that are of extraordinary depth and influence”. It was established in 2002 to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of the Norwegian mathematician Niels Henrik Abel.
Marianne Freiberg tells us about this year’s Abel Prize was awarded to Yves Meyer for the development of a powerful mathematical tool: wavelet theory.

Mathematics Education Research Kaleidoscope in Finland with Cambridge Mathematics by Kristof Fenyvesi
Cambridge Mathematics aims to learn about how the Finnish mathematics curriculum was developed and written, whether there is and emphasis in learning through play, exposures or experiences in mathematics, are there any recent innovations in the mathematics curriculum and related research findings, and how IT is embedded into the maths curriculum and its assessment.

Women of Mathematics, bubbles in Guinness and other things by Marianne Freiberg for the Plus Magazine Site

Plus is a free online magazine about mathematics aimed at a general audience. It is part of the Millennium Mathematics Project, based at the University of Cambridge and our aim is to open a door onto the world of maths for everyone.

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During the month of May many post-primary school students presented a huge array of projects at regional SciFest events. Congratulations to Sheila and George Porter on the 10th anniversary of Scifest at College. We were delighted to see that many of these projects had a strong maths focus. You can't get very far in science without maths and it is great to see the widespread use of maths of varying levels in the projects. SciFest are to be commended for having a  special award for the best use of maths in science. See more about Scifest here

Sentinus Young Innovators 2017

Sentinus the Northern Ireland Science and Technology festival will take place on Monday 12th of June in Ulster University, Jordanshown.  It showcases the achievements of young people in STEM as post-primary school students demonstrate the exciting project work that they have carried out.  Sentinus also delivers free workshops covering subjects such as robotics and engineering superheroes.  Furthermore, there will be many stands providing local companies, universities, and public sector bodies demonstrating the use of science and engineering in the workplace. a great place to bring school groups. To book free workshops or shows see the website

Maths Development Team Training for Lesson Study

The Maths Development Team has just announced regional induction programme (Dublin, Limerick & Carrick-on-Shannon) for Lesson Study for 2017 - 18

This will run from  27-29 September 2017 (substitution provided). The purpose of this programme is two-fold. First, to understand the mechanism of Japanese Lesson Study and Structured Problem Solving. Second, to provide teachers with knowledge and skills to implement Lesson Study in their schools.  To make this Professional Development Programme accessible training will be held regionally in Dublin, Limerick and Carrick-on-Shannon.  More info here at Team Maths Website.
Register here

The Maths Development Team newsletter -register here

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Some Coming Birthdays/ Anniversaries

T.S. (Stan) Broderick (1893-1962) was born 22 May in Youghal, Cork, and was educated at UCC.  A probabilist, his career was spent at TCD, where he rose to the rank of vice-provost.  Poet Edna Longley is his daughter.

John Campbell (1862-1924) was born 27 May in Lisburn, Antrim, and was educated at Queens, Belfast, and at Oxford. His career was entirely at Oxford, where he was an early supporter of women's education. He worked in Lie algebras and differential geometry, and wrote two influential books.

Alicia Stott (née Boole, 1860–1940) was born 8 June in Cork, a daughter of George & Mary Boole, and was educated in London. Though she never attended university, she was a pioneer in the visualisation of 4-dimensional shapes. She published several papers, and coined the term polytope for higher dimensional analogues of polyhedra.

Learn more about Irish Mathematicians Past and Present at the Maths Ireland website

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Coming Events

Many academic mathematics events are listed at the mathdep listing found here

15 – 20 May   Conference on Applied Statistics in Ireland
Is taking place in Mullingar.  More info see here

17 May  Northern Ireland Space Event: Rosetta Mission to the Comet
This will take place in the Innovation Centre in Londonderry

18 May  Northern Ireland Space Event: The Rosetta Mission to the Comet
This will take place in the Innovation Centre in Belfast
ESA's Rosetta mission was launched in 2004 and took some 10 years to arrive at comet 67P/C-G, flying past the Earth 3 times, Mars and 2 asteroids along the way. This event will provide an account of this exciting journey including the landing on the comet nucleus

18 - 20 May  Groups in Galway
Groups in Galway has been running on an annual basis since 1978. The scope of the conference covers all areas of group theory, applications, and related fields. All who are interested are invited to attend. There is no conference fee. For more information see here

25 May The sound of the Universe: detecting gravitational waves in space with LISA

Enrico Barausse, Institut d'Astrophysique de Paris

Thu 25 May 2017, 18:30 – 19:45 Moore Auditorium, UCD

This event is suitable for a general audience interested in Astrophysics, Gravity and the European Space Agency.

The recent discovery of gravitational waves by LIGO was a stunning validation of Einstein's General Theory of Relativity. The European Space Agency LISA mission is a set of space-borne gravitational detectors separated by millions of kilometers that will directly observe the stretching and squeezing of spacetime. In this public lecture, the science behind the mission, the technological challenges, and the impact of the results on our understanding of the universe will be discussed. The event is free to attend, but requires registration more info here.

The 6th National Student Chapter Conference of the UKIE Section of SIAM - Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics - will take place on Friday 26 May 2017 at the National University of Ireland, Galway. The aim of the conference is to bring together research students from different universities, giving them the chance to broaden their horizons and see what other students in their research area are working on.

See here

26 May  Teaching and Teacher Education in STEM Education
Seminar by Professor Paul Conway, School of Education, University of Limerick. 
Researchers from across third level Irish institutions nationally will be presenting their EU-funded STEM Education projects they partnered with or led.
The seminar is the first ‘Teaching and Teacher Education in STEM Education Seminar’ to discuss and stimulate the development of future education contributions in STEM teaching and learning.   The event brings together key stakeholders, academics and decision-makers (DES, NCCA, Industries and regulatory bodies and researchers) to debate future contributions to STEM Education teaching in line with the Action plan for Education 2017 and research project initiatives at EU level.

See details here

30 May (9.30 - 3.30)  NALA Conference -
Keeping it real: Relating maths to real life situations

NALA and the ‘Research in School & Education’ (RISE) Research Group, School of Education, Trinity College Dublin are presenting this professional development event for adult numeracy practitioners and Further Education and Training practitioners who want to learn more about numeracy. Synge Theatre, Arts Block, School of Education, Trinity College Dublin.

See details here

9 June  The fourth Irish conference on the History of Mathematics (IHoM4)
will take place in Edward Worth Library, Dublin.
Abstracts (of no more than 150 words) are invited for presentation at IHoM4, on or before 7th May.

For more information see here

11 –16 June  MACSI, University of Limerick will host Problem Solving With Industry ESGI 128
For further information and to register please see here.  or contact
There will be a variety of problems at ESGI128. The problems may be viewed here

13 June Sentinus Young Innovators - Ulster University Jordanstown
For further information see here

22-15 June  Robert Boyle Summer School
The 6th annual Robert Boyle Summer School will take place in Lismore and will address the theme: "What is Science For?" The programme of events will be posted soon. See here

4 - 6 August  Spraoi Festival Waterford.
During the August bank holiday weekend the streets in Waterford will become alive with exciting events and yes, the Maths Ireland team too will be delivering some unique maths challenges on the streets of Waterford.  See here

5 August  Problem Solving Event Dublin Castle
This festival is a family event aimed at highlighting skills through a variety of interactive exhibitions covering an array of STEM topics. This festival will deliver something for everyone. Click here

1 - 2 September Talking Maths in Public Conference
This will take place at the University of Bath. It will start at 10:30 on Friday and finish on Saturday afternoon.  Bookings are expected to open on Friday 26th May and will cost £55. Furthermore, accommodation will be available on site for £50 per night. For further information, see here

14-22 October Maths Week

This is just a brief snapshot of some of the events that will happen during Maths Week 2017.  Further newsletters will announce more events and activities. You can keep an eye on our website for ideas and event.

Sat 14 October Maths in the City Dublin

Sun 15 October Munster Maths and Science Family Fair 2017

This event will be held at the Mallow GAA Complex.  It is is a STEM event geared towards kids of all ages and families. It is in its seventh year and gathering momentum.  Once again, it is envisaged that a significant number of exhibits from Industry, academia and outreach educational organisations will showcase science, robotics, 3D printing, drone technology, IoT, sustainable energy, electric vehicles etc  as well as selected schools, both primary and secondary, from all over Munster, exhibiting school STEM projects.  For more information, see here

Mon 16 October Hamilton Day

Hamilton Walk Dunsink - Broombridge (organised by Maynooth University)
RIA Hamilton lecture

Tues 17–Fri 20 October
Online activities/  in-school activities, events at venues across the island

Sat 21 October

Maths in City Belfast – Ulster Museum
Mathsfest – Rochestown Park Hotel, Cork

MathsFest for teachers is back for Maths Week 2017.Organised by IMTA Mathsfest is back where it was originally founded - in Cork. The details of this will follow in subsequent newsletters. 

Sun 22  October
Celebration of Mind – joint with Pumpkin Festival in Botanic Gardens Dublin t.b.c.

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If you have any events that you think would be of interest to the mathematics community or maths education community please let us know at

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Make sure you keep us updated on your events and activities throughout the Year. You can email us at
You can find us on Twitter @mathsweek or Facebook.

Maths Beyond the Textbook

Maths Boyond the Textbook

Douglas Buchanan
May 2017

Many say to me why do I continue travelling around the British Isles, Ireland and Kenya and the answer comes in this recent email I have just received:

My son did the Year 4 maths challenge at Old Hall last week and was part of the winning Prestfelde pair. He came home so excited and then spent the weekend ploughing through the book (Kjartan Poskitt’s “Murderous Maths”) he won. He has now decided he wants to do a presentation to his class on famous ancient Greek mathematicians, based on the first chapter (and all this is without any extra prompting or pushing from me!)
I have always loved being involved with your events at year 4 and 5 from a professional point of view seeing a room full of children being inspired and loving maths is a wonderful thing - I am now seeing it from a parental viewpoint as well.
Thank you for the opportunities you create for the "young mathematicians" and long may it continue.”

This month’s puzzle
Robinson’s age
“How old are you Robinson?”
“My brother is two years older than I, my sister is four years older than he, my mother was 20 when I was born, and I was told yesterday that the average of four of us is 39 years.”
What is Robinson’s age?

Making maths homework meaningful
This is always a contentious area of education and an article by Janelie Cox on the website throws out several pointers:
• Keep the homework a short exercise and do not give repetitive examples.
• Make sure the pupils know the strategies to complete the work.
• Differentiate the assignments.
• Review the previous day’s work including the homework.

I believe homework should not be an extension of the work done in the classroom. It is an opportunity to enthuse them about maths by giving them puzzling tasks and mini directed projects. Encourage the parents and family to get involved. The internet is your oyster for such material.

Board games galore!
What a wonderful summer maths project in getting the pupils to produce a board game and then play it with their peers or visit the younger pupils in their classrooms. Maths Board Games is a PDF booklet with over 25 board games including the templates of the apparatus and the instructions. The pupils could be responsible in choosing their game, work out the rules and maybe adapt it once they have played it a few times.

The mathematics shed
This website has got such an array of activities to suit all ages and many of the “sheds” have unusual activities and maths related videos. There is so much material you may have to work as a team in school to discover all the golden treasures.

Maths in the Kitchen
Mini-projects involving maths in the kitchen and this includes measuring, geometry, time, finance.
Click here

Puzzle solution
Robinson’s age
He was 32, brother 34, sister 38, mother 52.

And finally …
Why did the girl wear glasses during math class?
Because it improves di-vison.

Why did the math book look so sad?
Because it had so many problems.

What geometric figure is like a lost parrot?
A polygon.


Contact Maths Week with feedback or queries -  please email

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