sigma Network Newsletter
Issue 6: March 2015

In this issue:


Forthcoming events

Past event reports




The sigma Network needs YOU!

David Bowers - Chair, sigma Network

The sigma Network is now at the mid-way point of the three year HEFCE funded period 2013-16. To date, a considerable amount has been achieved, thanks to the hard work and commitment of the sigma project directors, the regional hub co-ordinators and indeed everyone who has taken part and contributed to our range of events and activities.

David Bowers, sigma Chair

Over the last 18 months, sigma has been able to co-fund and support the establishment of eleven new or enhanced maths support centres at higher education institutions in England. The regional hub network has organised a varied programme of free meetings and events for mathematics and statistics support practitioners, attracting hundreds of attendees. The resource base of mathcentre and statstutor has been enhanced. The popular CETL-MSOR conference goes from strength to strength. This and more has been recorded in previous editions of this quarterly Newsletter, which is itself a new and valued service to the national maths support community.

Taking stock at this mid-way point does not mean standing still. It is like arriving at the point of inflection of a cubic function with strictly positive first derivative. The aspiration, expectation and inevitable direction of travel is for continued growth.

For this to happen, we need to continue to engage those who have an interest in strong and effective mathematics and statistics support in the HE sector, and harness their enthusiasm, commitment and good will. The momentum that sigma seeks to maintain and grow is a combination of mass and velocity – our velocity, based on current activity, is good; but we need to continue to grow our “mass” of people and organisations who are actively involved in our work.

This means YOU!

  • If you are involved in university-level maths or statistics support, do please make yourself know to your regional sigma hub co-ordinator, to be kept informed and receive invitations to local meetings (details at
  • If you have ideas for activities, events, resources or professional development that sigma could offer – or if you could host such an event at your institution – please do get in touch. If it is of interest to you, it will be of interest to many others
  • If you represent an organisation or professional body and would like to engage with sigma at a strategic level, we would be most pleased to hear from you.

The national sigma Network is now setting in place measures to build a sustainability strategy for the longer term (see Tony Croft’s article in Newsletter 4). We hope YOU can be part of it!


Joe Kyle's Corner - Missing Connections

Joe Kyle

Recently I endured a torrid rail journey. The route from the Yorkshire Dales to Oxford is tricky at the best of times, but a landslip near Banbury had travellers scrambling around for alternative arrangements. Frustrating, but in my case the trip was well worth the enjoyable and informative workshop I attended. Nonetheless returning, there was much fretting over missing connections, reminding me of Connections that I definitely do miss.

Joe Kyle

Many of the readers of this newsletter will have been keen readers of the Connections – originally published by the old Learning Teaching and Support Network and latterly by the Higher Education Academy. Financial pressures led to an hiatus and uncertainty. But a number of colleagues have been exploring whether anything could be rescued and the signs are that we may be close to resurrecting a similar publication. There has been a significant gap in the dissemination and development of innovative practice across the HE MSOR community and it is high time that gap was filled. Let’s not forget that it’s not overstating things to claim that the thriving sigma network had origins in work that is described in Connections.

Tony Croft, Duncan Lawson and I are involved but I’m sure Duncan and Tony will not be offended when I say that the forward momentum is maintained through the combined efforts of Noel-Ann Bradshaw, Peter Rowlett, Rob Wilson, Paul Hewson, and Alun Owen. I have been hugely impressed by the progress they have made. There are still uncertainties, for example a new title may well be needed. But there will be no change to the underlying ethos: a focus on sharing ideas, written by practitioners for practitioners. As I say, there are still matters to be resolved, and I do hope I’m not tempting the fates in saying this, but I am hopeful that – just like the railways, normal service will be resumed quite soon.

Look out for further announcements soon and if you have something to share with the rest of us, start writing now. And if you have something written up, why not pass it on to anyone mentioned above. We have been missing Connections for too long.

Ships, Time, Stars and Maths: CETL-MSOR goes to Greenwich

The 2015 CETL-MSOR conference is being hosted by the University of Greenwich on Tuesday 8th and Wednesday 9th September.  Titled “Sustaining Excellence”, the focus of this year’s conference is sustaining excellence in an environment where there is increasing pressure on resources. 

Greenwich University

University of Greenwich (Image: Kol Tregaskes -

The conference will explore ways in which learning and teaching in MSOR is meeting this challenge whilst navigating the ever changing higher education landscape.

The principal themes of the conference will be:

  • Large lectures: a thing of the past?
  • Flipped classrooms and other innovations: are they practical? Affordable?
  • Teaching mathematics and statistics in other disciplines
  • Assessment and feedback
  • The impact of changes in pre-University maths qualifications
  • Preparing students for careers and a lifetime of learning
  • Developments in mathematics and statistics support.

Interesting contributions from other areas of learning and teaching of MSOR will also be welcomed.

We are delighted to announce our confirmed keynote speakers, Professor Les Ebdon (Director of Fair Access to Higher Education, the Office for Fair Access (OFFA)) and Professor John MacInnes (Professor of Sociology and Associate Dean Quantitative Methods, University of Edinburgh). As with previous years, we also intend to have a student-led keynote session.

The call for abstracts will be issued on 19 March 2015 and delegate registration will be open from the same day. Full conference details can be found on the sigma Network website:


Professional recognition for maths support staff

David Bowers, Chair, sigma Network

The UK Professional Standards Framework (UKPSF) is used by the Higher Education Academy as a reference for the awarding of HEA Fellowships that recognise the professional practice of those teaching in HE. (

In its latest version, the UKPSF explicitly refers not just to “teachers” but also to those who “support learning” in higher education. Thus people working in university maths and statistics support are equally entitled to apply for HEA Fellowship, whether or not they are employed on an academic/lecturer contract.

sigma welcomes this opportunity for mathematics and statistics support practitioners to achieve professional recognition for their work. Many people in our network are already Associate Fellows, Fellows or Senior Fellows of the HEA.

Over the coming year, you will begin to notice that certain events run by the sigma Network will be mapped against the UKPSF. This means that by attending these events, engaging with the content, and critically reflecting on how this can impact on your professional practice, you should be able to provide elements of evidence towards a Fellowship application.

Aligning to the UKPSF is one way that sigma is enhancing the professional development opportunities available to the HE mathematics support community.


sigma Eastern England Workshop: Geogebra as a tool for maths support - 15 May 2015

Abdel Salhi, sigma Eastern England Hub Co-ordinator

The Eastern England sigma Hub is planning a workshop, GeoGebra as a tool for maths support, on 15 May at Essex University, Colchester Campus from 10:30 - 4pm.

The main speaker is Tom Button, an expert on the use of GeoGebra. The progrmme will be available from the sigma Network website. Please contact Abdel Salhi or Dan Brawn for further information.


Promoting what we do

Moira Petrie, sigma Project Manager

We need you

As part of our communications plan, we have available a number of flyers and leaflets covering the work of the sigma network as well as details on and In addition, this academic year alone, we have already issued over 20,000 Facts & Formulae leaflets to maths support provisions across the country.

All of these leaflets are available to view on and However, if you would like hard copies of any of these leaflets, please send me an email ( detailing which leaflets you would like and the quantity of each required.


Developing resources to tackle language barriers in mathematics

Cheryl Voake-Jones, University of Bath

We need you

Language barriers can cause significant difficulties for students entering Higher Education (HE) to study a mathematics-based discipline. Not only are all students faced with new terminology, definitions, acronyms and notation, but students with English as a second language also face additional translation challenges.

The Mathematics Resources Centre (MASH) at the University of Bath employed two undergraduate students during the summer of 2014 to look into these difficulties. They were both English-Welsh bilingual and taught Mathematics to A-level through the medium of Welsh, and as such were able to provide first-hand feedback on this topic.

There are two main outputs from our project:

  • A list of key mathematical terms and acronyms was collated. This is useful for any student entering a course containing mathematics, who may be faced with terms such as a priori, Q.E.D and corollary for the first time.
  • A suite of bilingual dictionaries allowing for translation of fundamental mathematical terminology between English and another language.

At the time of writing, we have received contributions towards ten languages, but there still is a long way to go. If you can speak another language, please contribute to these resources by acting as a proofreader or translator!

We would also like to encourage readers to make students and staff aware of these resources.

If you think we are missing any terminology or have any other feedback, it will be gratefully received.



Acknowledgements: Thank you to sigma for providing funding towards these internships.


A Cloud of Knowhow over Coventry

Trevor Hawkes

sigma (Coventry University’s  bushy-tailed Maths and Stats support team) have joined forces with the DMLL [♯] (the trendy crowd who have recently taken over the third floor of the University Library) to develop a brand new round-the-clock service. As it says on the tin:

“Send us a maths or stats question and we will record a video answer for you”

Coventry University HowCloud Project

Anyone with a Coventry account can log in to using their University username and password, and post a question about mathematics or statistics. In due course, a sigma tutor will pick up the question, don a headset, and write an answer on graphics tablet with a stylus. The writing, together with the voice over, will be recorded as a video, uploaded to the HowCloud site and made available to the person who asked the question.

The questions and answers will be visible to all Coventry students and, over time, the best quality videos will be stored and tagged to make them searchable. Students can type their questions into a text-editing window, can upload documents to refer to, or can refer to existing resources (such as sigma’s collection of worksheets) on the HowCloud site.

The main players in this enterprise are:

  • Joseph Ros, who created HowCloud while studying Economics at the University of Warwick to help students in Coventry schools revise for their GCSE maths exams.
  • The DMLL [♯], who are funding the project until the end of September and helping with the evaluation.
  • sigma’s tutors, who will be at the virtual chalk-face providing all the answers.

♯ The Disruptive Media Learning Laboratory (DMLL), Coventry’s creative visionaries who are hell-bent on breaking the mould of university teaching.


Navigating Neurodiversity: some strategies for support

Clare Trott, Loughborough University

This is the third of a series of articles on supporting disabled students. It outlines some issues neurodiverse students face and suggests some ways to help.

Neurodiversity is an umbrella term encompassing specific learning differences such as dyslexia, dyscalculia and dyspraxia. Grant (2009) contends each occurs with approximate frequency of 5-7%.

Many neurodiverse students may appear disorganised in both their notes and their written work. With notes it is helpful to encourage the student to develop an overview of the topic, perhaps mind-mapping the various sub-topics. This creates a holistic view of the topic. For poorly documented written work Trott (2012, p26), citing the case of “Andrew”, suggests the use of squared paper. Larger boxes can also be used to help the student structure their solutions.

Some students may struggle to read the question in a way that ensures access to meaning. Some examples may be embedded in wordy contexts (Trott, 2015). Reading through the task with the student may be sufficient to elicit the response: “Oh, I understand now!”

Neurodiverse students may lose track during a longer problem, failing to hold all aspects in mind (Trott, 2012, p27). Coloured highlighting of these intermediate results can help as can trying to work less sequentially. An example (Trott, 2012, p28) is reproduced below


Recall of formulae, theorems and definitions can be a major concern for many neurodiverse students (Trott 2015). Encouraging students to keep a glossary will help, particularly using colour coding and creating visual references to aid memory.

With appropriate strategies in place, the neurodiverse student can succeed.


Grant, D. (2009) ‘The Psychological Assessment of Neurodiversity’, in Pollak, D. (Ed.) Neurodiversity in Higher Education: Positive Responses to Specific Learning Differences. Chichester, UK: Wiley and Sons, pp33-62.

Trott, C. (2012) ‘Mathematics, dyslexia, and accessibility’, in Cliffe, E. and Rowlett, P. (Eds.) Good Practice on Inclusive Curricula in the Mathematical Sciences, Birmingham, UK: National HE STEM Programme and Maths, Stats & OR Network, pp25-28.

Trott, C. (2015) ‘The Neurodiverse Mathematics Student’, in Grove M., Croft A., Kyle J. and Lawson D. (Eds.) Transitions in Undergraduate Mathematics Education, HEA, University of Birmingham


Social media in maths and stats support

Leslie Fletcher, sigma North West & North Wales Hub co-ordinator

As a relative beginner with Twitter (@LRFletcher43) and an absolute beginner with Facebook I am close to one end of the spectrum of familiarity with social media with my LJMU colleague Mark Feltham (@MarkFeltham666) near the other.  Feeling the need to understand how social media can be used to make professional practice more effective – in my case to help increase the visibility of maths support at LJMU – I talked Mark into a joint workshop at the 2014 CETL-MSOR Conference.  The main activity at the workshop was the creation from scratch of a Facebook page, hoping also to nurture a special interest group for the use of social media in maths and stats support. With the working title sigma-network Facebook SIG ( it has 29 signed-up members so far but there has been relatively few posts.

The lightness of the traffic may well indicate that, so far, this community has relatively little experience on which to build.   On the other hand, quite recently I came across the Facebook page of Maths Café at the University of Portsmouth which I found quite impressive.  It also provided me with my first substantial post on the sigma-network Facebook SIG!

I feel there are various aspects to beginners such as me getting going with social media.  At one level it is a matter of knowing what facilities and features Twitter and Facebook offer and how they are accessed – basically, which buttons to press.  I also feel the need to make a mental shift in order to make good use of social media, somewhat like the mental shift I remember making when I began to communicate with students by email.  I can spot it when it happens – when I received a tweet about the Loughborough MOOC-type course which maybe I wouldn't have noticed so clearly and immediately had the message come by email.  I hope and expect my posting on “our” Facebook page about Maths Café will be more noticeable than an email message on the same topic but I need to get better at spotting opportunities like this.


sigma Network Website - Mathematics and Statistics Provision Web pages

Janette Matthews, sigma Project Officer

The HUB pages of the sigma Network website have been expanded to include links to the web pages of mathematics and statistics support provison at all institutions in England and Wales. There is also a page for mathematics and statistics support outside of England and Wales. If there are any missing support pages please contact Janette Matthews.

We hope that sigma colleagues will find this useful.

Facebook and Twitter

If you make use of Facebook and/or Twitter, please send us the Facebook page links and Twitter accounts so we can list these.


New book from sigma colleagues!

Transitions in Undergraduate Mathematics Education.

Edited by Michael Grove, Tony Croft, Joe Kyle and Duncan Lawson

When studying mathematics during single or joint honours courses undergraduate students experience a number of transition points or periods – times when many students experience difficulty applying or developing their mathematical knowledge or adapting to changed learning methods and processes during their higher education studies. Written to meet the needs of university lecturers, teachers and tutors this book forms a guide to understanding key issues, good practice and developments in learning and teaching in mathematics within higher education. With nineteen chapters written by leading players in undergraduate mathematics education this book is a treasure trove of published and evidence-based literature, practical recommendations and tips for both new and experienced higher education practitioners.

Joe Kyle

In their Foreword to the book, Professor Dame Celia Hoyles and Professor John Blake write “…this book is a wonderful read, full to overflowing with ideas, information and resources for lecturers, tutors and teachers of mathematics” and “There is no doubt we can all learn much from this cadre of experienced authorities who provide a working guide to many of the issues that face our undergraduates.”

Published by The University of Birmingham with financial support from the Higher Education Academy.

This book is available via print-on-demand from see
ISBN 978-1-909557-06-2


Drop-in support appointments

John Little, Robert Gordon University

John Little, the Maths and Statistics Support Tutor from the Study Skills and Access Unit at The Robert Gordon University posted a request to the SIGMA-NETWORK@JISCMAIL.AC.UK in January 2015. This short report collates the reponses that were received as these may be useful to colleagues in planning/reviewing such a service.

At Robert Gordon University (RGU) a maths and basic statistics drop in service was piloted during 2014.  To help with review of the pilot, views of smsn and the sigma Network colleagues were sought. The information sought was concerned with durations, there having been a switch at RGU from up to sixty minutes per student or group for appointments to up to thirty minutes for each drop in session and some doubt as to whether this provided the best arrangement for students.

The doubt arose primarily from the observation that the hour traditionally offered for appointments was, on average, nearly all used, presumably because students and tutors believed that there was benefit in this; that important learning and/or teaching takes place beyond the half hour threshold or at least that learning is non-linear.

Of course there are arguments in favour of half hour sessions: more students can be seen, duration may not make a difference to learning (Bryner 1995), concentration may wane beyond half an hour (Bunce, Flens and Neiles 2010) and follow up appointments can be offered where half an hour proves insufficient.

The main question response frequencies are summarised below.


These response totals are somewhat the product of the author’s subjective interpretation!  Full data, excluding the responder’s institution, are included

It clear that most responders offering a drop in service do so from a dedicated space, which seems consistent with the Irish experience (O’Sullivan, Mac an Bhaird, Fitzmaurice and Ni Fhloinn 2014), but that the time on offer to students varies considerably.

Charles Bryner (1995) Learning as a function of lecture length. Family Medicine, Vol. 27, No. 6

Ciaran O’Sullivan, Ciaran Mac an Bhaird, Olivia Fitzmaurice and Eabhnat Ni Fhloinn (2014) An Irish Mathematics Learning Support Network (IMLSN) Reporton Student Evaluation of Mathematics Learning Support:Insights from a large scale multiinstitutional survey

Diane Bunce, Elizabeth Flens and Kelly Neiles (2010) How Long Can Students Pay Attention in Class? A Study of Student Attention Decline Using Clickers Journal of Chemical Education, Vol. 87, No.12


Research-informed study guides for mathematics students

The transition to undergraduate mathematics is challenging, even for highly motivated students. It requires a fundamental change in mathematical thinking: instead of performing calculations, students must learn to understand and construct proofs. Most students who choose to study mathematics are perfectly capable of making this transition, but neither everyday reasoning nor previous mathematics prepares them for the rigour required.

Lara Alcock's books tackle this problem head on. Both are based on research in undergraduate mathematics education and on Lara's extensive experience in teaching early proof-based mathematics.

How to Study for a Mathematics Degree explains how mathematicians do things, why they value what they do, why this might initially seem mysterious, and why it is worth making the intellectual effort to attain deep understanding of concepts and theories. Part 1 discusses the nature of advanced mathematical thinking, using carefully chosen illustrations to explain the new skills that a student needs to develop. Part 2 discusses practical and affective aspects of studying mathematics at university, giving actionable advice on learning in a large lecture class, managing time in the face of numerous assessments, handling panic when work seems overwhelming, and coping with no longer being “the best in the class”.

How to Think about Analysis has a similar ethos. It explicates ideas that are obvious to a mathematician but not to a student, discussing the structures of mathematical theories and incorporating Self-Explanation Training to help students become more effective mathematical readers. It then provides detailed introductions to key concepts: sequences, series, continuity, differentiability, integrability and the real numbers. Each introduction starts with a typical new student’s existing knowledge then reframes this in a more sophisticated way by introducing definitions, highlighting and resolving common misconceptions and sources of confusion, relating new ideas to examples and diagrams, and raising questions for the reader.

Both books are written in a friendly, accessible style, and both aim to help students prepare for and enjoy the challenges of undergraduate mathematics.

How to Study for a Mathematics Degree:

How to Think about Analysis:

Self-Explanation Training:


SN@P Assessment & Education

Kieran Kelly, SN@P Health education North West

Leslie Fletcher, sigma North West and North Wales has recently attended seminars at LJMU on SN@P which is aimed at student nurses. This article by Kieran Kelly explains what SN@P is and may be of interest to sigma colleagues.



SN@P is an online numeracy assessment and education resource supported by Health Education North and hosted by the University of Chester. The resource is commissioned for use within Higher Education Healthcare faculties and Service Providers across the UK. SN@P was initiated as a project in 2010 with the primary objective of standardising the approach Northwest Higher Education Institutes had in the assessment of pre-registration Nursing students. Due to the growing interest and demand, SN@P currently provides an online numeracy assessment and education service to Higher Education Institutes and Service Providers across the UK.

SN@P Services has become a recognised online training provider for numeracy assessment and education striving to ensure Healthcare students and professionals achieve an excellent level of confidence and understanding around general and clinical numeracy. The SN@P Service includes technical support, software training, access to a variety of clinical and general assessments and use of the SN@P Education resources.

The SN@P resource is divided into two platforms to meet the needs of Education and Service provider leads as well as the learner.

SN@P Assessment is utilised as:

  • A learning resource during ‘Access to Nursing’ and other healthcare programmes within colleges of further education
  • During selection processes for admission to pre-registration health related programmes by Higher Education Institutes.
  • By health service provider organisations wishing to confirm and further develop the numeracy skills of its newly recruited and/or existing staff, plus experienced registered (workforce)

SN@P Education provides:

  • General and Clinical numeracy podcasts to provide learners with visual resources to aid their learning through watching drug simulation videos.
  • E-Tutoring to provide learners with interactive access to subject experts to discuss and resolve any queries regarding numeracy methodology
  • SN@P –Shot courses to provide learners with bite-size modules which improved core numeracy skills
  • SN@P-Tutor-Chat to provide learners with an online discussion forum with subject experts to discuss any queries.
  • SN@P-Shops which allow learners to attend a taught session through SN@P working in partnership with regional Colleges of Further Education to facilitate numeracy training.

For further information see


statstutor and mathcentre Community resources

It has been a while since new resources have been been contributed to mathcentre or statstutor although we are looking forward to the outputs from the sigma Resource funding call.

If you have developed resources that you feel would be of benefit to the mathematics or statistics support community, either for students or practitioners, please consider contributing them through the Communities Projects. For example, these could be leaflets, video tutorials, practice exercises or workshops in a variety of formats.

To ensure academic integrity of all resources, we ask that resources are reviewed for correctness. Copyright remains with the author and both names appear on the resource. Text and video resources are welcome and we can host materials should this be necessary.

If you would like to discuss this further, please contact Janette Matthews -

Every week @mathcentre is using Twitter to highlight a mathcentre or statstutor resource. If you use Twitter, please follow @mathcentre and retweet so that these can reach as many potential mathcentre and/or statstutor users as possible.


sigma Eastern England Hub report

Dan Brawn, Eastern England Hub

Models for the delivery of Maths/Stats support

A sigma Eastern England Hub meeting Models for the delivery of Maths/Stats support was held at the University of East London (UEL) on Tuesday 16 December 2014.

Regime of the Buzzer!

To begin, two hours were allocated for strictly timed 10 min talks, one from every institution represented. A timer with a loud buzzer was set at 10 mins starting at the beginning of each presentation and no comments or questions were allowed during this two hour period. This regime was in order that every institution be able to present their model of delivery. Everyone came well prepared and only one presenter took the slight liberty of extending a few minutes past the 10 min buzz ! This format enabled each of the ten institutions to present a summary on the theme, Models for the delivery of Maths/Stats support, as practiced in their institution. Lunch covered about 40 mins, a nice buffet kindly organised by Andrea, where everyone freely mingled. The afternoon group work was in snowball style. First in pairs who had to decide what was interesting/good about their partner’s models. Then pairs into groups of four or three, each of these three groups nominated a spokesman to feedback to the whole group. Finally David Bowers delivered the plenary talk with some sigma updates. We all trotted off just after 3pm as planned. The Buzzer stands in readiness for later use!

Here’s some key feedback received after the event from attendees:

  • It’s very useful to hear about practice in other institutions – as the only person with this role in my institution; I find any feedback from those in similar roles particularly helpful.
  • I thought the buzzer was a very good idea as it ensured we all kept it brief and punchy. The group discussion was good, however it didn’t seem clear to anyone in my group what our outcomes were supposed to be. Perhaps providing the instructions on screen or on paper would have helped?
  • The (strictly!) timed talks and the structured discussions meant that we all got to hear from each other.
  • I personally learned a lot about the various ways of providing math support.

sigma Midlands Hub report

Ruth Fairclough, sigma Midlands Hub co-ordinator

Statistics Training

It was good to meet so many mathematics support practitioners from the Midlands area at the mathematics and statistics tutor training within the Midlands; there were two tutor training sessions in December and January. The first training event was on the 2nd and 3rd December focussing on training new tutors from a mathematics background who need to brush up their statistics skills. The event was well attended, with Institutions from within the Midlands region and also a few further afield.

My thanks go to Paul Rice at Northampton University for hosting the event, as well as Ellen Marshall and David Bowers for leading each session. The sessions were positively received and there was chance to network over a lovely dinner in a local hotel.

Midlands Hub event

Left and right : Mathematicians working hard doing some statistics problems... Is that SPSS I see on the screens? Centre: Paul Rice, Ellen Marshall and David Bowers

The second training event was on the 29th January focussing on more generic mathematics and statistics tutor training which was hosted at Coventry University aimed at those new to mathematics and statistics support. This was a very interactive session, with most of the discussion coming from the participants, certainly not death by PowerPoint. This was the last training session organised by sigma for this academic year for new tutors.

There will be one more meeting for this academic year. Please contact the Midlands regional coordinator via email at if you have any particular topics you would like covering at these events.


sigma North East and Yorkshire Hub report

Chetna Patel, North East and Yorkshire Hub co-ordinator

Being Inclusive – the Whole Kit and Caboodle

The sigma North East and Yorkshire Hub hosted a day conference on Being Inclusive – the Whole Kit and Caboodle (in the Maths and Statistics Support Environment) at The University of Sheffield on Monday 19 January 2015, starting at 10am and finishing at 4pm. The day was a combination of talks and activities and aimed to give the delegates an opportunity to consider their inclusive practice of maths and statistics support and learn ways of developing it further. It attracted 42 participants from 13 different Institutes.

The opening talk by Rod Nicolson set the scene for the day by defining maths anxiety and its devastating effects. Then highlighting how intervention can have the positive turnaround from anxiety to comfort and even happiness. The following talk by Clare Trott detailed the differences between dyslexia and dyscalculia and how they can relate to the interventions we may use. Bryan Coleman alerted us to the Equality Act 2010 and how it affects the Universities. Victoria Mann, Dylan Griffiths and Eleanor Machin presented as SpLD tutors on their approaches and methods they employ to help individual students. Bernadette Leckenby as a maths support tutor has worked with numerous students with SpLD and presented some tips and techniques she has developed. This event has enabled a real possibility of engagement with SpLD students with more confidence and awareness.

The event highlighted the positive outcomes of this engagement; of course there is scope for much more and I hope the momentum continues.

The presentations are available from the sigma Network website.



sigma North West and North Wales Hub report

Leslie Fletcher, North West and North Wales Hub co-ordinator

The sigma North West and North Wales Hub event held in November 2014, Meeting the needs of Pharmacy Students was reported in the previous issue of the sigma Newsletter.

Elsewhere in this issue are contributions from Leslie on Social media in maths and stats support and SN@P Assessment and Education.

sigma South East Hub report

Noel-Ann Bradshaw, sigma South East Hub co-ordinator

Using Online Resources and the Virtual Learning Environment to Promote and Enhance Maths Support

On 28th November, the South East sigma hub organised a one day workshop on Using Online Resources and the Virtual Learning Environment to Promote and Enhance Maths Support. The event was hosted by one of the newest sigma Centres, Central St. Martins, University of the Arts London. This must be the first time that a meeting about maths support has taken place in an art studio!

There were seven speakers who presented on a variety of connected topics:

  • The Evolution of a Support Centre: MathsAid online (Nigel Atkins, Kingston University)
  • Flipping classrooms - using online resources with Excel and VLE to enhance Maths support (Allison Smale, Bucks New University)
  • HowCloud: a new teaching and learning tool for mathematics (Joe Ros, HowCloud)
  • Use of diagnostic testing to improve access to maths support (Chetna Patel, Sheffield University)
  • Providing maths support and improving transition into university life through VLE at Brunel (Inna Namestnikova, Brunel University London)
  • Use of VLE in Statistics and SPSS support at Brunel University (Christine Pereira, Brunel University London)
  • Problems and solutions navigating to maths support resources (Leslie Fletcher, Liverpool John Moores University)

The meeting was well attended with 19 delegates from the following universities and organisations: Brunel University, Bucks New University, Dublin Institute of Technology, University of East London, University of Essex, University of Greenwich, HowCloud, King’s College London, University of Kingston, Liverpool John Moores, MEI, Portsmouth University, Royal Holloway, University of Sheffield and University of Sunderland.

During the lunch break delegates were given the opportunity to try out HowCloud and a couple of tablets for creating screencasts.

The presentation slides have been made available to delegates

South East Hub event

Left: Silke Placzeck, Christine Perreira and Inna Namestnikova. Right: Alex Schady and Cormac Breen


sigma South West and South Wales Hub report

Emma Cliffe, South West and South Wales Hub co-ordinator

Sustainable Maths and Stats Support in Universities

A sigma SW&SW meeting, on embedding and sustaining mathematics support, was held on 23rd January. Abdel Salhi of the University of Essex started the day with a view on ‘Sustainable Maths and Stats Support in Universities.’ He described the drivers for and development of the Maths Support Centre at Essex and highlighted the importance of considering direct income, indirect income, expertise, space, time and tools in ensuring the sustainability of a centre. Of particular interest was that the centre is open to any member of the local community. This raises the local profile of the university and in turn the standing of the Centre. Direct income also results as queries from businesses lead to consultancy work.


Jon Gillard (left) and Jane white (right)

Jon Gillard of Cardiff University spoke about the path from pilot to promoted service with a focus on meeting the challenge of securing ongoing funding and resources – even for a very well-used service. Jane White related her experience at the University of Bath, comparing it to that at Cardiff. She showed how funding and staffing evolved over time and highlighted the importance of developing key collaborations and unique selling points. In the afternoon, attendees discussed delivery at their own centres and considered how they might develop their centre in a sustainable way. Finally, attendees shared their thoughts on sustaining communication, networking and sharing of ideas within the South West hub going forwards.

The eleven attendees found the ‘networking’, ‘interesting talks’, ‘sharing ideas’ and ‘awareness of sustainability issues’ helpful. Slides are available at


Using Games and Puzzles in Maths Teaching

Scottish Maths Support Network

This event took place on Tuesday 27 January at the University of Glasgow, and delegates from 7 institutions with a good mix of Maths and Stats support practitioners, lecturers from the Science and Engineering disciplines and PGDE Maths students. The speakers were Noel-Ann Bradshaw from the University of Greenwich and Julia Collins from the University of Edinburgh

Scottish Mathematics and Statistics Network

The day started off with an excellent presentation by Noel-Ann Bradshaw “Puzzles to aid mathematical thinking”. She discussed some historical mathematical problems and provided an interesting insight on how puzzles and games can be used in teaching mathematics to develop students’ problem solving skills and strategic thinking. Next we had Julia Collins with “Using Zometool to explore Geometry”. Zometool is a plastic construction set designed for building complex 3D models to investigate the structure and geometry of various polyhedral and Julia explained how she made use of it in her outreach work. This was an interactive session where we all had the opportunity to build Platonic solids which led to discussions about their properties as well as touching on 4D objects and fractals.

The first session after lunch was “Promoting Problem Solving through the Maths Arcade”. Noel-Ann introduced everyone to a varied selection of games which she had kindly brought along with her all the way from Greenwich! She explained that she had been using mathematical games to improve student-staff interaction, and to encourage students to participate and approach staff for help. The participants then spent a very enjoyable hour trying out the games in small groups. It was quite difficult to tear people away for the final session of the day, “Maths and Knitting” by Julia. This was a very interesting session where Julia outlined how mathematical concepts in topology and geometry could be demonstrated through knitting. She also touched upon the links between knitting patterns and programming. Julia had brought many mathematical knitting samples with her such as hexaflexagons, octocube and hyperbolic mushrooms.

The event provided great ideas for engaging students in mathematics, and our thanks go to both speakers for such an engaging and enjoyable day!

Event photographs

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The sigma Network uses the sigma Network mailing list (SIGMA-NETWORK@JISCMAIL.AC.UK) to promote events and announce funding calls. The mailing list is also used by mathematics and statistics support practitioners to seek information and discuss items of mutual interest. Recents topics have included the length of drop-in support appointments and statistics resources. Archives of previous posts are accessible from the SIGMA-NETWORK JISCMAIL home page.

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Recent reports and research publications

This regular column lists recent publications relevant to mathematics and statistics support practitioners. If you are aware of any publications that may be of interest to this community, please will you send them to It is our intention to compile a bibliography which will be available from the sigma Network and mathcentre websites.

Journal and Conference Publications

Cormac Breen, Mark Prendergast and Michael Carr (2015), Investigating the engagement of mature students with Mathematics learning support, Teaching Mathematics its Applications. doi: 10.1093/teamat/hru027

Tony Croft, Duncan Lawson, Tony Croft, Michael Grove, David Bowers and Moira Petrie (2015) sigma - a network working! Mathemathics Today, IMA, 15 (1),

Leanne Rylands & Don Shearman. (2015) Supporting Engagement or Engaging Support? IJISMA. 23(1).



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