Monthly Archives: May 2012

Interim report: Industrial Problem Solving for the Higher Education Curriculum

Martin Homer (Engineering Mathematics, Bristol) provided the following as an interim report for his project a while ago. Apologies that I am only just getting around to posting it here.


The aim of this project is to help enhance the teaching of applications of mathematics in higher education, by developing a shared online resource of industrial and scientific problems built on real examples. The project is progressing well, despite protracted contract negotiations requiring a re-organisation of the project plan. We were fortunate to identify an experienced candidate for the researcher role who would be able to deliver all the original project goals over a shorter timeframe, together with the assistance of an hourly paid researcher. Both were successfully recruited, and have been working well together to deliver the goals as per the revised timetable. Our key deliverable, the wiki that forms the core of our collaborative resource, is up and running and publicly accessible.

We have defined a template, consisting of a short summary of the problem, and materials required to address it. To better allow academics to use the material in parctice, we have also included the pre-requisites necessary to work on the problem (as broad subject areas: basic statistics, discrete mathematics, or numerical solution of ODEs, for example), as well as hints and tips on possible approaches or solution techniques, and a list of possible extensions for more advanced students. Data has been attached where relevant. The wiki has been populated with a wide range of problems (over 50, at current count) across a range of disciplines and application areas, covering both model- and data-centric approaches. The problems are organised by level (roughly corresponding to first, second and third-year undergraduate level), and comprise both existing problems from the department’s mathematical modelling course stream, as well as new case studies from our industrial and commercial partners.

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Mathematics is an evolving, alive subject to which you could contribute

Recently the news broke that “schoolboy ‘genius'” Shouryya Ray has solved “puzzles posed by Sir Isaac Newton that have baffled mathematicians for 350 years”. Regardless of how accurate this story is (the conclusion we came to is that he did some very impressive work but not quite what the newspapers are reporting), the kernel of the story is that Shouryya visited his local university, heard about an unsolved problem, decided to give it a go and produced some interesting research as a result that he then entered into the national science fair competition.

Today on Twitter David F Cox tweeted to say

Maybe THE lesson is to tell kids there are unsolved problems, there is room for them.
— David F Cox (@DavidFCox) May 28, 2012

This is not a million miles away from one of our projects. Some delegates at the HE Mathematics Curriculum Summit were concerned that mathematics undergraduates may not understand what it means to work as a mathematician, or understand that mathematics is an evolving, alive subject to which they could contribute. As a result we supported Tony Mann (University of Greenwich) and Chris Good (University of Birmingham) to develop resources in a project called ‘Being a Professional Mathematician’.

The project will produce interviews with research mathematicians and mathematicians in industry as well as profiles of historical mathematicians, along with worksheets and ideas for using these resources in the curriculum. These aim to counter a view of mathematics as a static, completed body of knowledge and instead encourage awareness of the process of doing mathematics.

You can find out more by reading the project listing on the National HE STEM Programme website.

Immediate reaction: Placements for mathematics undergraduates workshop

Yesterday Tony Mann at Greenwich ran a workshop ‘Placements for mathematics undergraduates’ as part of his Models of industrial placements project. A talk about placement formats from Veronica Benson (Reading) set the scene. In the morning we heard examples of schemes for placing undergraduates in schools at Greenwich and Portsmouth from Noel-Ann Bradshaw (Greenwich), Ann Heal and Susan Gibbs (Portsmouth). After lunch Nadarajah Ramesh (Greenwich) outlined the Greenwich sandwich placement scheme and Tony Mann (Greenwich) outlined an innovative scheme for placing undergraduates in companies for one half-day per week as part of a credit-bearing alternative to the final year project.

Looking through the feedback forms, delegates rated all sessions, the event as a whole and contacts made as valuable. Some delegates would have liked more time for discussion, although this is hard to predict in advance and one delegate points out there is “never enough time for discussions!” One delegate commented:

Very useful meeting in all respects – both for finding out common and different experiences/attitudes, etc. Thank you.

Links to work on HE Curriculum Innovation in Mathematical Sciences

In May I am giving a presentation at four workshops with the National HE STEM Programme Mathematical Sciences Strand. The workshop title is ‘Maths Strand Outputs in the National HE STEM Programme‘ and this will be repeated in Manchester, London, Cardiff and Birmingham. I will be speaking on ‘Work on HE Curriculum Innovation in Mathematical Sciences’. In this talk I will name several resources that my project has produced. These are listed below so I can give an easy link to participants.

Views of ‘young researchers’ on on graduate skills

I ran an exercise at the Young Researchers in Mathematics 2011 Conference in which I asked for participants’ views of the HE curriculum. You can view a video of this session online and I wrote a paper on this: Views of HE curriculum from ‘Young Researchers in Mathematics’ (MSOR Connections, 11(3), pp. 20-21).

Graduate skills development

The booklet Developing Graduate Skills in HE Mathematics Programmes contains case studies of opportunities to develop graduate skills within mathematics curricula.

You can view videos of sessions at the workshop ‘Teaching Students to Write Mathematics’ online and download related materials or burn your own copy of the DVD online.

Engaging employers

The project Assessing student teams developing mathematical models applied to business and industrial mathematics is described in an article in MSOR Connections.

HE Mathematics Curriculum Summit

The Summit findings report is available as HE Mathematics Curriculum Summit.

The papers relating to ‘Student group with industry’ are Student mathematical modelling workshops as preparation for study groups with industry and Mathematical modelling study group.

The report of the sigma-sw summer interns project is available as Summer internships in sigma-sw.

Other innovative work – found through open calls

Find out about the Maths Arcade through The University of Greenwich Maths Arcade.

The inclusive curricula booklet is Good Practice on Inclusive Curricula in the Mathematical Sciences.

Read a report about the project Engineering Students Understanding Mathematics (ESUM).

See videos of talks at the Media-Enhanced Teaching and Learning (METAL) workshops.

Our work until that point was all covered in the HE STEM special issue of MSOR Connections 11(3). This includes final reports from our first call projects, interim reports from our second call projects and initial plans from our third call projects.