2 out of 3 ain’t bad: back to back TMAs

MS327 progress – not where it needs to be to do well on TMAs

It’s been a crazy month.  From the lead up to the product launch at work to know it seems like I’ve been doing nothing but back to back assignments for my Open University maths degree.  So much so in fact that I’ve not had time to study, but only focus on the assignments themselves.  It all started back with the second TMA for M337 (Complex analysis), which was a rush job and I got a much lower score on that than I would have liked.

I then had two weeks until a computer marked assignment for MS327 and was going into this without having looked at any of the material in the book.  As usual, I spent my commute trying to get through it, but barely made it a quarter of the way through  before I realised I’d have to start working through the questions for the assignment.  Computer marked assignments are very different from the tutor marked ones.  You either select an answer from a choice of 4-6 potential results1 or by typing a numerical result.  Therefore your answers are either correct or incorrect.  There are no marks for method.

If you find yourself in this position, my best advice is always to do the unit quizzes.  These are usually in a similar format and will get your brain in the right place for the assignment itself.  In combination with the handbook and text books you should be able to follow how to get the answers from the questions, although please make time to go back and fill in the gaps as soon as you can.

Noise levels at the local soft play centre. Earplugs don’t really help – it’s so high pitched you feel it through your teeth more than your ears 😉

With the iCMA out of the way, I then had a week for the third TMA of MS327. Fortunately on the same topics as the iCMA, but much more involved questions.  This was a lot trickier to pick up.  With the usual standing room only on the commute, I’ve had to spend a lot of evenings trying to do this around family time and study in the excessive noise of soft-play centres… not a great environment for thought!

 

So I’ve just submitted the MS327 TMA online and I’m pretty happy with it.  Now I have two weeks to get the M337 TMA3 done and I’m a little more nervous about that.  There isn’t time to go through the study materials and answer the questions, so I’ve given myself a week to get as far as I can and then I’ll dive into the TMA and see how far I can get…

On the plus side, the OU offers substitution on your assignments, so it’s okay to have a bad one and you’ll be allocated a score that’s the average of the other three.  So I can still pull up my average for M337, as long as I do well on this TMA.

This level of progress isn’t looking good at the moment…

I’m really hoping that I can get time to get these to 100% before the exams in June!

Can I do calculus in my sleep?

Breaking discipline with my Open University studies is never a good thing.  Once you’re behind, it’s so difficult to catch up, especially with a full time job and a young child.  It’s been a crazy few weeks at work too, we’ve had a major launch event and lots of projects with looming deadlines.

It was in the days leading up to this launch that I had a TMA due for one of my level 3 OU modules, M337 Complex Analysis.

With all the other deadlines I’d only done half of the study necessary for the TMA. This is never a comfortable position. I got away with it at level 1 and mostly got away with it at level 2 but you really can’t do this at level 3. Especially when the focus is calculus of complex functions. I made a start in good time, but without the time to really get my head into the topics, it was always going to be an uphill struggle to make the intuitive leaps necessary at this level to determine the correct method.

Not a particularly healthy sleep profile…

In the days leading up to that TMA my sleep profile was pretty awful.  I can’t remember what caused it, but I had so many nights in a row where I got very little quality rest.  This isn’t great.  It impairs judgement at the best of times.   I could have asked for an extension in good time, but that would just compound the problem with the MS327 assignments in a few weeks1.

this is what maths looks like when you’re slowly losing consciousness!

When you’re sleepy, it’s easy for “i” to look like “1” and “z” to look like “2” particularly in equations where there are other terms with these numbers.  One of those days I found myself working on problems from the wrong module (MS327) and just looking at my notes it’s pretty obvious that I nodded off in the middle of writing these2.  Maybe it isn’t that obvious, but trust me that this level of spider scrawl is not representative of the handwritten work I normally submit!

The results of my assignment are back and it turns out I can’t do calculus in my sleep, let alone path integrals of complex functions.  I really do need to up my game and attribute more time to this degree3.

On a side note, I’m really pleased that my presentation at the launch event was recorded – I was a little light-headed after giving blood on top of poor sleep. I presented for 5 minutes and couldn’t remember a thing I said immediately afterwards.  I got some great feedback, so there’s definitely a learning there for being relaxed, not overthinking what you’re saying and also speaking about what you know!  I’ve only heard the audio so far, but will post the video when I have it.

 

 

M337: Group theory becomes relevant

My M337 books are starting to look a little dog-eared after a few weeks of commuting!

One of the things I’ve enjoyed least about my OU Maths journey so far has been group theory.  I ploughed through whole swathes of M208 applying the techniques and not really seeing the relevance1  I found group theory and the proofs related to it tedious.  Mainly because I was proving something that was “obvious”.  However, I’ve always had a healthy acceptance of partial learnings – knowing that if I was being taught a technique then there was a reason for it. Two years later and that reason finally hit me. Continue reading M337: Group theory becomes relevant

OU level 3: Complex numbers and stochastic dynamics

Books for this year: Complex numbers and stochastic dynamics

I gave myself a birthday present again this year, by registering for another 60 points worth of Open University maths modules. I’d put it off for quite a while as I couldn’t decide which level three modules I wanted to do most and also in which order. The only fixed option was “The quantum word” which was only available once I’d completed1 60 points worth. This left me with a choice of 3 modules from 4 other interesting options. Sadly, I discovered (thanks to a comment) that the pure maths module I intended to do was a 60 point module, meaning I either had to lose that from my choice or two of the modules I was really wanting to do. In the end, pure mathematics lost out and I’m committed to four 30 point modules. Continue reading OU level 3: Complex numbers and stochastic dynamics

OU Maths – decisions on level 3

Image credit OU Mathematics

This week was results week for the Open University. Many of us who had been checking the website weekly since the exam1 finally got the link through to our overall module scores. If, like me, you were waiting for a result then I hope you got what you needed2. MST210 marks the end of level 2 of the B.Sc. Mathematics and I now have some choices on level 3. Continue reading OU Maths – decisions on level 3

MST210 – Exam and modelling exercise reflections

Revision day essentials – revising in 1 day is not recommended

This week was the exam for my level 2 OU module MST210 on methods, models and modelling.  This was a compulsory module, but had it not been I would have never chosen it.  The module has been mostly applied maths, which has been really interesting, but what’s been a problem for me has been the mandatory team work modelling exercise, which makes up 16% of the continuous assessment.  So much so, that I lost motivation to do the final TMA or revise for the exam as much as I wanted to.  I thought it would be worth a short reflection on why I disliked this aspect so much (especially as it led to a repeat of last year when it came to revision…). Continue reading MST210 – Exam and modelling exercise reflections

Using OneNote for Open University TMAs

Image from windowscentral.com.

I get a lot of attention when using my surface for note taking at work, studying on the tube or train and during OU tutorials, making full use of multiple notebooks, tabs and pages in OneNote.  I’ve written before about using the surface but following a discussion after my most recent tutorial I realised I hadn’t covered the way I use it along side the OU’s electronic TMA submission process1.  A lot of people on the same maths course as I am tend to use \LaTeX and typeset their marked assignments.  While I am a great fan of \LaTeX and appreciate how clear this is for the tutors to mark, I have always preferred to hand write assignments.  While there is some aspect of writing by hand helping to cement ideas more than those typewritten, the main reason I prefer to handwrite is that the exam is handwritten.  If I don’t force myself into regular, neat mathematical writing then it’s easy to make mistakes in the time pressure of the exam.  Simple things like forgetting to underline vector or matrix definitions can cost marks and if the examiner can’t distinguish a 0 from a 6 then you’re going to be in trouble! Continue reading Using OneNote for Open University TMAs

MST210 Study focus and time management

Not an exciting image - just the view sat on the floor of a train
Sometimes, you just have to sit on the floor to get stuff done…

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while you’ll know that I start off with good intentions for my OU modules and then finding myself rushing TMAs, skipping a lot of the text and generally revising the day before the exam. While I’ve got away with this so far, it is getting harder to get the scores I want and I knew going into MST210 that my focus and time management would need to improve to take this seriously.

One of the things I took into account when doing this module was the amount of time I spend commuting. Working in London I have a train journey of between 30 mins and 1 hour 15 (depending on whether I travel in rush hour or not) and a tube journey of 27 minutes (fortunately on a single line) in each direction, so at a minimum I have 2 hours on public transport in four good half hour blocks. That’s 10 hours study time a week, which should be sufficient1.

I’m getting a head start on MST210 as with previous modules I’ve fallen behind due to work commitments and I don’t want to impact my family time playing catch up as I did last year. I’ve done one full week and completed book A unit 1. This is on par with the pace that the study calendar sets2 and I have made notes on all the examples and done every single exercise in the unit.

Keeping focus has been really hard. It’s really easy when you’re on a train at 6.30am to sip coffee and stare out of the window as you wake up gradually. It’s so easy when you get on a train or tube and have to stand to just leave my surface and book in my rucksac and play Peak on my phone. It takes no effort after a day at work to grab a gin and tonic and read my Kindle. What is hard is having that focus and discipline to make every minute count – every minute I spend geting ahead now is a minute I can spend having fun with my family rather than having to isolate myself to rush that TMA. It seems like a no-brainer, but humans do tend to make short-term decisions at the expense of long-term success . One of the best things we can do to overcome how our brains work is have a routine and stick to it3.

This is what I’ve been doing – every morning and evening, I’ve forced myself to get my MST210 books out, not only when I’m actually on the train/tube, but also while waiting for them – I keep them in my hands while changing trains; if I don’t put them away, then there isn’t the effort to get them out again. If I need to sit on the floor of a train so I can write, then that’s what I do. This focus has taken a lot of effort and I’m not sure how long it will be before it’s automatic, nor indeed what will happen when my routine changes due to business travel.

However, backed by the science that our brains are dumb enough to make bad short term decisions even if we are aware of the long term consequences, I know that the focus I need is entirely in my own control and if I stick to the routine long enough, it will become the go-to task for my selfish limbic system.

MST210 – mathematical modelling – registered

MST210 - mathematical modelling is fun )
MST210 – mathematical modelling is fun )

Today, after a lot of pondering I finally signed up for MST210 to start in October.  This is the second 60 point module and, just like M208, is mandatory on the BSc Maths pathway.  I’d been holding back for a number of reasons and reviewing my post from last year, I realised that nothing had changed.  If anything my job is now more mathematically demanding as I dig deeper into the bleeding edge internals of machine learning.  My 3D printer is nearly finished and my daily commute is now 3 hours a day, giving me 2 hours a day sitting on trains.  That time is currently occupied with getting through a ridiculous amount of books1.  What I really want to avoid with MST210 is some of the rushing that I did for M208 – I want to enjoy this module. Continue reading MST210 – mathematical modelling – registered

OU Maths – halfway review

Halfway through (Q31 course image (c) Open University
Halfway through (Q31 course image (c) Open University

Well it’s been 3 years and I’m halfway through the Maths degree I started “for fun” because I needed some mental stimulation that I just wasn’t getting in my work at the time. 3 companies later and I’ve got the challenge I was craving, and since the results of the last two modules are now out, it seems like a good time to review my experiences with the OU. Continue reading OU Maths – halfway review