Rishi Sunak, the UK Prime Minister, has caused some waves in the past few days with one of his personal pledges that young people should have to study maths until 18. As he said himself in his speech:
“Every opportunity I’ve had in life began with the education I was so fortunate to receive and it’s the single most important reason why I came into politics: to give every child the highest possible standard of education.”
Rishi Sunak, January 2023
While on the surface this may seem like a great idea, critics have been keen to pull apart all the ways that compulsory maths education is either a bad thing (from Simon Pegg’s passionate rant about lack of focus on the arts, many people saying how much they hated maths at school) or simply won’t work (lack of qualified teachers or investment in schools, or even children going to school hungry). All of these criticisms have merit and I’m a big believer in ideas being criticised and pulled apart to get to something that works rather than biased idealism.
It’s been seven years of studying while working full time (and in some cases nearly double full time hours!) and I’ve now finished the degree I started for “fun” because I wasn’t being intellectually challenged in the job I had at that time. I was sceptical of all aspects of the Open University but thought I’d give it a go, knowing that without a cost to me and an exam, I would never make the time to study. While I’ve been blogging about individual modules over the years I’ve had quite a few conversations with many of you reading this blog about the pros and cons of study with the OU and one of the comments on my last post was from Korgan, who suggested I do a post about this and I’ve combined their questions with all of the others I’ve had.
Today I submitted the last assessment ahead of the exam for my tutor to mark in my Mathematical Statistics module. For once, I’m actually on track with my study but it’s not been without difficulty. If you’ve been following my OU journey then you’ll know I work full time and have a family, so dedicated study time can often be a low priority. Up until the second week of March this year1 I had a reasonable routine: I’d spend the two hours I commute Monday to Friday going through the course materials and then this extra maths wouldn’t impact work or home life.
This week I finished the last of the books in SM358 – the quantum world and am now starting two and a half weeks of intense revision to prepare for the exam. This has been by far the most enjoyable module to study in my Open University mathematics journey so far, even if it was also the first one without face to face tutorials.
While I am very happy at studying on my own, one of the aspects I have really enjoyed in previous modules was spending a few hours every month with fellow students. Not so much to solve problems (as I am always well behind where everyone else is!) but to be inspired. When work and family commitments get overwhelming, study is easy to put to one side, having a checkpoint in the diary helps prioritise and I always left tutorials feeling motivated. I’m not sure whether SM358 didn’t have face to face tutorials because it is a physics module or if it’s just a module that has never been successful with these. Online tutorials are just not the same. Partially because I don’t get home early enough to attend them, but also after a day at work, trying to switch to student mode and find a quiet corner of the house just isn’t possible.
When I was looking at the level three maths modules for my Open University degree, one of the ones that really drew my eye was SM358, the quantum world. I decided to only do a single module this year as I’d committed to a lot of speaking engagements in October and, in addition to my day job, I’ve been spending time on another project that I’m really excited about for the start of 2019. From past experience, if you fall behind on OU modules at the beginning, it can be very hard to catch up. This was really noticeable with the complex analysis and stochastic dynamics modules I started in 2017. Rather than taking on too much, I decided on just one level 3 module. Given my progress so far I’m only about a week behind and I’m pretty happy with that. Continue reading SM358 The Quantum World 25% in…
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.
What a day! OU TMA on complex maths first thing, full work day with a break to #Giveblood then @StoryStreamAI ‘s fantastic #aihype demystify event. Fantastic speaking to everyone, but happy to be heading home.
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.
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.
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.
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
After the lack of focus I’d had studying for M208, I was adamant that with MST210 I’d get into a routine and stay on top of the work regardless of what else life through at me. This worked pretty well in October and November. I did the work during my commutes, approximately 3-4 hours a day, even if I had to sit on the floor of a train carriage or find a dusty corner of Paddington while waiting for a delayed train. All was going well. At the end of November I began the process of changing jobs and, because of the nature of my work, was put on garden leave for three months. Suddenly I wasn’t confined on trains for about one seventh of every weekday. This is where my whole routine broke down. Continue reading MST210 – Lack of routine has consequences
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 and typeset their marked assignments. While I am a great fan of 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
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