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Posts from the ‘KS2 (9-11)’ Category

Science Museum Game

October 11th, 2007


Launchball is a game produced for the Science Museum website. It is an excellent and well thought out little game that has highly transparent educational content. Despite this, it it fun to play.

Most of the puzzles deal with the concepts of power and force, both in terms of their generation and their effect. The aim is to make a little (metal) ball reach a particular goal. It can be done by using wind power to blow the ball, magnetism to attract it, or ‘rollers’ to move the ball along. Some or all of these effects require power, and the different mechanisms for generating and transferring power are really interesting and innovative.

This game is a wonderful way to introduce physics.

The Minimax Principle at KS2 & KS3

September 20th, 2007


Scientific-Computing.Com’s recent blog articles "Beyond the Prisoner’s Dilemma" and "Global warming and the Prisoner’s Dilemma" are interesting examples of using the logical structures of game theory as starting points for logical thought at younger levels.

The blog conversation starts with the big environmental issue of global warming and this friendly video where the protagonist explains the application of minimax to the global warming debate. He argues, in a nutshell, that given uncertain future consequences of humanity’s impact on the planet, and given also a choice of decisions about how to act against those potential consequences, it makes the most logical sense to exclude the catastrophic choice of doing nothing to prevent global warming by acting as if global warming were a certainty.

I like how the minimax principle here facilitates students’ understanding by offering a powerful structure for considering different possibilities. Because minimax is so clearly structured and relatively easy to grasp, it is the sort of idea, like the Venn Diagram, which ought to be a constantly recurring feature of students’ education. In Mathematics, it bears close resemblance to the Carroll diagram, which is a similarly undervalued structure for understanding issues.

Computer Games in Education

September 19th, 2007


Firaxis Games, the makers of one of the greats of computer gaming Civilisation, discuss on their website the growing trend for computer games to be used in the educational arena. It is encouraging that educators are starting to understand the potential of technology to educate, though I suspect that the use of commercial games as educational tools is an transitional step before bespoke educational games begin to be produced with production values that begin to approach those of commercial games.

One of Firaxis’ contributors Kurt Squire proposes Civilisation as a good model for learning about World History. There is an interesting tension here. On the one hand, a game like Civilisation engages students in such a way that they build a sophisticated model of the game in order to succeed at it. That is good educationally to the extent to which the game models genuine historical processes. It is not clear that the ‘history’ that Civilisation presents is particularly convincing.

While Kurt Squire argues that Civilisation “represents world history not as a story of colonial domination or western expansion, but as an emergent process arising from overlapping, interrelated factors”, it does still give an essentially American – or at least New World – view of history. Land is virgin territory until moved into by the great civilisations; pre-colonial Afrians, native Americans, native Australian Aborigones do not have a story. Intellectual and technological progress happens linearly; the Middle ages and the loss of Roman and Greek learning cannot happen. There is no potential for a European type of historio-political scenario; states are the size of continents.

On the other hand, if one ignores the problems with the historical model, it does offer a ‘big picture view’ of history. Could such a grand model of historical processes be so readily expressed without the means of technology? Certainly the answer is yes, though it would take an extremely talented teacher, and those are notoriously thin on the ground.

The pipedream is for someone to create a game with production values on a par with Civilisation, but which takes as its starting point an historical model that aims at accuracy. This of course, is rather like desiring an historically accurate documentary that looks and sounds like a Hollywood movie, but there will surely be moves towards higher production values in educational software in the future.

School testing regime attacked

September 15th, 2007


Today’s Independent runs this headline on page 27, heading an article by their Education Editor Richard Garner on Dr Paul Kelley’s new book Making Minds.

The Independent quotes Dr Kelly on the SATs sat by every student at 7, 11 and 14: "Testing every child has, overall, a negative on the learning outcomes and attitudes of children. Repeated practice tests reinforced the low self-image of the lower-achieving students. The feedback from teachers often hurts children’s feelings rather than helping them understand their weaknesses. Children often responded by reducing their efforts towards further learning and focussing on performance in tests."

It is encouraging to hear Dr Kelly say this, which seemed apparent to me and to many of my colleagues as soon as we started training to teach. It is important that he says it too. The more high profile criticisms of the current testing regime, the more the government will have to listen.

The current testing regime comes from an array of misguided notions about the appropriate means of assessing schools, teachers and students. It is easy to think that those who argue against the current regime are against testing per se. Not so; the criticism of the testing regime for younger students does not imply a criticism of the idea of testing at 16 and 18.

Richard Garner disputes Dr Kelly’s argument that ‘rising achievement’ can be explained by examinations having been made easier. Garner argues that the rise in perceived achievement is explained by teachers becoming ever more adept at coaching for exams. I’m inclined to think that a little of each is more or less right. I discuss a similar idea in my post Playing Politics with Education.

Dr Kelly has a host of other things to discuss in Making Minds too, from the hours that schools open to the ages at which language acquisition is most acute. It is encouraging that research into neurological science is starting to have an impact on educational thinking. I will post more on these ideas once I’ve got my copy!

Furbles: Data Galore!

March 4th, 2007


I’ve written a new piece of software for tecahers of students aged between 7-11 to help teach different sorts of graphs and other aspects of data and probability. They are cute little creatures that students invariably love, and are most effective when used with an interactive whiteboard or a data projector. The Furbles website can be found at

Click on the demo link to find a demo of the program and more information regarding the full version.

Le Plat Diviseur

August 31st, 2006


A plat diviseur is a plate designed to make portioning cakes easy. Click here to see one. It works by putting dots at appropriate angles around the rim of the plate, so that when someone wants to cut, for example, five portions they merely cut from the center of the plate to wherever there is a five. For neatness one cut is always common, and tends to have just the number 0!

Displayed on screen this image could be used to motivate an activity in which students practice finding angles by creating their own plat diviseurs. It can be quite a fun activity, especially if you buy paper plates for them to use (though I recommend that they practice on paper first!).

They could also be asked which numbers are absent; they hopefully notice that 2,4 and 8 are missing. Discussing why can get into thinking about halving and fractions.

The reciprocity of 3 and 1/3, 5 and 1/5 can also be brought up, by discussing how often the image of a divided circle is often produced as a visualisation of proper fractions.

Since 5 and 7 are not factors of 360 this is also an interesting discussion point. While discussing factors, they should note that points for 3,6 and 9 are coincident at two points, and that if 2,4 and 8 are added what other numbers would have coincident points. I remember asking whether 10 and 12 would have coincident points if we had them as divisions too, which caused some thought.

Note that there are very few good images of plat diviseurs on the internet. I originally got the idea from Problem Pictures.

Flickr – A Free Problem Pictures

August 30th, 2006


At University I was introduced to a really interesting CD called Problem Pictures. It had some fascinating images that all had some mathematical significance. I printed out about fifty and they made the walls of my classroom bright and appealing. It also had questions related to each photo, but I found that I rarely used them, preferring to create my own questions and ideas.

Enter Flickr, a great online photo sharing tool. Though you will not get questions related to each photo, the database is huge. Typing into the Flickr search engine ‘geometry’ turns up 10,810 photos at the time of writing. Most of them are really relevant; some of them are utterly spectacular. Here is a random sample:

Top Hit in Flickr Geometry Search at time of post


#flickr_badge_source_txt {padding:0; font: 11px Arial, Helvetica, Sans serif; color:#666666;} #flickr_badge_icon {display:block !important; margin:0 !important; border: 1px solid rgb(0, 0, 0) !important;} #flickr_icon_td {padding:0 5px 0 0 !important;} .flickr_badge_image {text-align:center !important;} .flickr_badge_image img {border: 1px solid black !important;} #flickr_www {display:block; text-align:left; padding:0 10px 0 10px !important; font: 11px Arial, Helvetica, Sans serif !important; color:#3993ff !important;} #flickr_badge_uber_wrapper a:hover, #flickr_badge_uber_wrapper a:link, #flickr_badge_uber_wrapper a:active, #flickr_badge_uber_wrapper a:visited {text-decoration:none !important; background:inherit !important;color:#3993ff;} #flickr_badge_wrapper {} #flickr_badge_source {padding:0 !important; font: 11px Arial, Helvetica, Sans serif !important; color:#666666 !important;}

I have found that putting an image full screen on an interactive whiteboard when students come into the room is a great way of capturing the students’ attention straight away.


August 29th, 2006


Countdown Flash Executable

There may be more clever Countdown applications out there, but I like mine with all its wobbly buttons. The anagrams and conundrums are included in the game because they are included on TV. In my opinion, a little bit of letter work is good logical reasoning and therefore constitues just as much a maths class warmup as the number problems. It also hooks non-mathematical students into the game, especially if you keep scores in some way!

I appreciate the concerns you may have in downloading and running an executable file (or if you don’t have those concerns, you should!) You download the file at your own risk of course, but it is simply a .swf file wrapped in a Flash Projector. I do it this way because some schools don’t have the latest Flash player installed on their systems. I am as certain as I can be that it is virus free.