Using Tweets in maths problem solving

Thursday 9th July 2020

I am not a social media person. It’s not that I don’t appreciate what the major platforms can do in terms of information-sharing and connecting people. It’s just that, spending quite a good deal of my time on a laptop and online for work anyway, there is a limit to how much online material I can actually cope with.

However, my wife has worked out a very productive system involving Twitter. Like me, she doesn’t actually tweet – but she does monitor the maths airwaves as part of her role in HE Education. And every time she comes across anything interesting, she sends it to me. I have a Twitter editor! And now, in turn, I am preparing to be a Twitter editor for maths teachers in the North West... 

The material she sends falls broadly into two categories: fascinating visual scenarios, and mathematical problems.

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Although the full experience of the first example above can only be appreciated by following the link, it is a typical example of animations that seek to stimulate interest. As much as anything, they are moving works of art, and if teachers and students simply sit back and admire the visual beauty of such items, that is enough. As the problems I receive are based around standard GCSE (or, more rarely, A level) Mathematics, it is easy for students to relate to them.

It may be that examples of this type stimulate the creation of a mathematical problem of some kind, leading directly to the second type. I find the immediacy of these problems their main selling point. They are not artificially categorised into a type of problem, nor are they ever sub-divided and convoluted. They are designed (like the animations) to capture one’s attention in an instant, and as such they are of great value and entirely in keeping with the Twitter philosophy of brevity. They do not lack subtlety and richness, however, as the following example shows with its references to indices and the difference of two squares:

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So my resolution, during lockdown and beyond, is to pass on these problems, in the same way as they have been passed to me. I hope teachers will look at them, derive whatever visual stimulus is to be had, perhaps put pen to paper in a quick, recreational ten minutes, and then pass on (or not) to their students and colleagues. It’s as simple as that.

By Martin Bamber

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