Mathagony Aunt

11th June 2004 at 01:00
Q I am the head of maths in a large comprehensive. The head of science and myself would like to create a cross-curricular activity that will engage the whole school at different levels.

AAt a Specialist Schools Trust mathsscience conference, Tony Sherbourne, of Sheffield Hallam University, gave a presentation on the project "Science UPD8", which was conducted by the Centre for Science Education and The Association for Science Education. This was a simulation modelling the spread of the SARS virus through a class or a whole school over a few days, which I will briefly describe, although the full activity can be found at Understanding how a virus spreads is important in a school population and seeing this mathematically through simulation opens doors for discussion on what preventative measures can be taken to lessen its impact. The activity you will find at the suggested site is a simulation that uses paper as the virus. The simulation works with a "health control" set up in the school reception area. Health control gives out viruses (infected sheets) and ribbons - purple, infected; white, survived; and black, died. An alternative to the paper virus uses fluorescent powder as the virus. Some is sprayed on a door, for example, and dries invisibly. Anyone who touches it gets powder on their hands. They can even pass it on to another (though only once). Pupils' hands are then examined to see who is infected. For details of the powder email:

At there are suggestions for the number of viruses to be given out and data from the theoretical model suggesting how it might spread, as well as providing a nice comparison for the experimental model. A-level students and interested pupils might consider how a simple program could be written (say in Excel) to model the simulation. If readers know about existing programs please let me know so that I can share them with other readers. The creation of a computer simulation allows data to be explored more fully when parameters are changed. For instance, what happens if a drug is introduced that can control immunity for a limited time - allowing infected students to "die" if not cured within a certain time; introducing a "gestation" period for the virus; having a limited time when students are infectious? An alternative to "death" could make use of less deadly viruses, such as those that cause colds or flu. In this case the "death" could be replaced by (pretend) school absence: flu can last for 7-10 days or longer. Looking at the number of pupils who are presentabsent during an outbreak would lead to interesting discussions. More about the mathematics of viruses can be found at

Q I work with disaffected teenagers. Although I have 10 GCSEs I only have an "E" grade gained at the foundation level in maths. Last year I ended up teaching KS3 maths here. This meant having to teach myself some of the work first. I would like to redo my GCSE in maths and then do an A-level so that I can go into teaching. I have a young baby and am a bit nervous of going to college straight away. What I want to know is how do I go about getting a teaching qualification. Do I have to do a maths degree first? Can I learn to teach maths while earning? Are there different ways I might do this, ie being able to work around my child.

A I contacted the teacher training agency ( and Louise Woodward their press and PR manager helped in providing the following answer to your query. Teaching is a graduate profession. Teacher training providers will require you to hold a grade C in GCSE maths or an equivalent qualification, eg GNVQs or work-based experience can be classed as equivalent depending on their content (you will also need GCSEsequivalents in English and science) and a degree. To become an undergraduate you will need at least two A-levels or their equivalent. You could either take a degree in education (BEd) or a degree (in maths or a related subject) with Qualified Teacher Status, or a maths related subject degree followed by a PGCE which would give you Qualified Teacher Status. You can train as a teacher "on the job" through the Graduate Teacher Programme. Open University teacher training also includes time in schools on teaching practice. Every route to teacher training includes practical experience in at least two schools.

For further information about entry to degree courses, your local careers service would be able to help or contact

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