sigma Network Newsletter
Issue 7: June 2015

In this issue:


Forthcoming events

Past events




It’s exam time! Where’s that coffee?

David Bowers - Chair, sigma Network

At the time of writing, students up and down the land are gearing up for end of year examinations. And maths support centre staff are preparing for the inevitable onslaught of customers wanting last minute help and advice.

Cynics would roll their eyes – if they don’t know it now, how can we possibly teach them everything at this late stage? Indeed, one of the hypothetical problem scenarios

David Bowers, sigma Chair

in the sigma training course for new maths support tutors is how to respond to a student who rushes in to a maths support centre half an hour before the start of their exam, demanding to be taught how to “do algebra”.

But such apocryphal stories – however amusing – should not divert us from understanding the real concerns that many students have at this time of year. Maths is a subject where one small error, or misunderstanding, or knowledge gap, can bring you grinding to a halt. And it is exam time when this becomes magnified into a seemingly insurmountable problem. Yet it is the skill of the experienced maths support tutor that can spot that small error, uncover that misunderstanding and effectively fill that knowledge gap. So it is no wonder that maths and statistics support staff are suddenly more popular than usual at this time of year.

How do you deal with the additional demands during the exam period? Is it business as usual, or do you take the opportunity to try different approaches, collaborate more closely with colleagues, deploy specific resources? It is questions like this that the sigma Network can help with – by bringing together maths support practitioners to share ideas and experiences at regional networking meetings, by contributing to discussion on our Jiscmail list, or by publishing case studies of innovative practice.

One approach to dealing with examination demands is the Maths Café. For a period leading up to and during exams, a room is given over full time to maths support and decorated in an informal café style. Coffee and snacks are made available. Past exam papers are laid out. Students can come and go, huddle around in study groups or just relax as they flick through their revision notes. Tutors and student peer leaders mingle, prepared to help out when asked.  In 2011, sigma awarded  its “rising star” award to Inna Namestnikova at Brunel University for her work in pioneering one of the first Maths Cafés. And later in this Newsletter is a report from Royal Holloway on how they have adapted the Maths Café model for their needs.

Please don’t hesitate to contact your local sigma Hub Co-ordinator with suggestions for future meetings or events on issues relating to enhancing your mathematics and statistics support, exam-related or otherwise. Your time starts now!

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Joe Kyle's Corner: Sylvanus P Thompson – a Case Study

Joe Kyle

Since my last contribution, I was delighted to be part of a well-attended workshop celebrating the publication of Transitions in Undergraduate Mathematics (available from at a very reasonable price!). But reader, do not turn away - this is not an extended advertisement for that book; I will simply echo the words of John Blake and Celia Hoyles in the foreword: it’s a thoroughly good read “full to overflowing with ideas, information and resources.” A chance exchange at the meeting developed the case for Thompson as a model in writing an engaging textbook.

Joe Kyle

Sylvanus Phillips Thompson was born in York in 1851 and in 1910 published Calculus Made Easy: Being a Very Simplest Introduction to those Beautiful Methods of Reckoning which are Generally Called by the Terrifying Names of the Differential Calculus and the Integral Calculus. The full title gives a good indication of what the reader is in for. He writes with a direct and clear style with his reader in mind at all times – for example, right at the start he goes out of his way to explain that how we enunciate (e.g.) du/dx (dee you by dee-eks). Chapter titles continue in this fashion and range from the first To Deliver You From Preliminary Terrors to the much later Dodges, Pitfalls and Triumphs. There are also some audacious passages, but the underlying philosophy is one that sees the needs of the reader far outweighing the self-importance of the author:

The fools who write the textbooks of advanced mathematics and they are mostly clever fools seldom take the trouble to show you how easy the easy calculations are. On the contrary, they seem to desire to impress you with their tremendous cleverness by going about it in the most difficult way.

Surely a guiding principle that is as valid now as it was a hundred years ago.

Thompson died in 1916, but his book is still in print – my much battered copy was issued in 1952. In the 90s, it was updated by Martin Gardiner, who replaced phrases such as “fifth form boys” with more politically correct terminology - perfectly understandable, but for me it removes part of the charm of this little gem.

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Senior Management Perspectives on Mathematics and Statistics Support

Moira Petrie, sigma Project Manager

As part of our work on sustainability post HEFCE-funding, we commissioned two education research consultants to undertake a high level sector needs analysis relating to mathematics and statistics support of both undergraduate and postgraduate students.  The purpose of the needs analysis was to guide the direction of travel of the sigma network moving forward.  In addition, it is hoped that the findings will help to inform Funding Council policy in this area.

In May 2014, Pro Vice-Chancellors, responsible for teaching and learning, at all English Higher Education institutions were invited to take part in the research project.  Over the following months, semi-structured interviews were conducted with senior managers (typically Pro Vice-Chancellors) from a sample of 23 institutions from across all of the mission groups.

The resulting report “Senior Management Perspectives on Mathematics and Statistics Support in Higher Education: A Research Report” by Professor Harry Tolley and Dr Helen Mackenzie was published on 15th May 2015.  The sigma Directors have also produced a response to this report. 

Both reports are available at

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Maynooth University Maths Support Centre celebrates its 100,000th visit!

Maynooth University Maths Support Centre (MSC) first opened in October 2007 to support students with mathematical difficulties. Since then, it has grown significantly and hit the milestone of 100,000 student visits on April 23rd 2015.

To celebrate the success of its MSC, Maynooth University held a number of events, which current and former MSC students and staff attended. Professor Philip Nolan (President of Maynooth University) praised the range of services offered by the MSC. He stated that key to the success of the MSC was that its practice was embedded in the excellent research carried out by Dr. Ciarán Mac an Bhaird (MSC Manager), Dr. Ann O’Shea (MSC Director) and others. This research shows that appropriate engagement with mathematics and the MSC can have a significant impact on retention and progression, and also on students’ attitudes towards the subject and confidence in their mathematical ability. Rose Ryan (Director of Access at Maynooth University) and Senator Mary Moran (Labour Party Spokesperson on Education, Disability, Equality & Mental Health) both highlighted the MSC as an example of the quality of inclusive education that Maynooth University provides for its students. Professor Tony Croft (Loughborough University and Director of sigma) told attendees that Maynooth University and its MSC are very highly regarded in the UK. He added that students entering higher education now expect that their institution has an MSC, an inclusive support that can be used by all students regardless of their mathematical background or level.

Dr. Mac an Bhaird paid tribute to the hard work and dedication of both his tutors and students who availed of the support, and he highlighted the significant contribution that sigma and colleagues throughout Ireland and the UK have made to the success of the MSC in Maynooth.

Further details are available at:

Maynooth celebrates 100000th visitor

Dr Ciarán Mac an Bhaird and Dr Ann O'Shea, Department of Mathematics and Statistics, with Aisling Dunphy (centre) 2nd year Physics with Astrophysics student, and 100,000th visitor to the Maynooth University Maths Support Centre

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Raising awareness of sigma at HoDoMS

sigma Tony Croft, sigma Director

The Annual Conference of HoDoMS (the Heads of Departments of Mathematical Sciences in the UK) took place at the University of Birmingham Conference Centre on 13th/14th April 2015. The opportunity was taken to update the Heads of Mathematical Sciences about the work of the sigma network. Following a potted history of the development of the Network, Tony Croft and Michael Grove explained the role of the six regional hubs and the important work they were doing in offering local opportunities for mathematics and statistics support practitioners to learn from each other. Attention was drawn to the eleven new centres awarded monies from the latest tranche of HEFCE funding, and how opportunities for others were available through the intern projects, resource development projects, and the annual conference.

Tony Croft addressing HoDoMS

Tony Croft addressing the HoDoMS conference


MSOR Connections

Alun Owen, University of Worcester

If you read the March sigma newsletter you may recall Joe Kyle’s short piece about “Missing Connections”? Well, I’m delighted to let you know that the publication MSOR Connections, originally published by the old Learning Teaching and Support Network (LTSN) and latterly by the Higher Education Academy, will formally be re-launched this summer. This will be published under the same name and we are currently working hard to launch formal publication of the first edition of the new publication at the CETL-MSOR Conference on 8-9th September. This will be published on-line with one volume per academic year and three issues per volume.

Like its predecessor, MSOR Connections will be a publication aimed at anyone involved in teaching, learning, assessment and support in the MSOR subject area within Higher Education.

Alun Owen

Submissions for articles in future editions are very welcome at any time, and can include for example, case studies, opinion pieces, research articles, student/co-authored articles, resources reviews and short updates such as policy or workshop reports etc. Further details about the publication and how to submit an article can be found at The website for the new publication is supported through funding from the sigma network and hosted with the help of the Greenwich Maths Centre.

The new editorial team for Connections consists of Robert Wilson (Cardiff University), Noel-Ann Bradshaw (University of Greenwich), Peter Rowlett (Nottingham Trent University) and Alun Owen (University of Worcester). Additional leadership for this new publication is also provided by the Editorial Board which includes Joe Kyle, Duncan Lawson, Tony Croft and Michael Grove.

We hope that the first edition will include a number of invited pieces but if you have an article you would like us to consider for possible inclusion in the first edition, we would be grateful if you could submit this to by 15th June if possible.


2015 sigma Summer Intern Projects

Moira Petrie, sigma Project Manager

After receiving and reviewing more than double the number of submissions compared to last year, the Student Summer Intern Projects Reviewing Panel agreed to fund the following 6 projects:

  • Brunel University London: To enhance the maths e.g. computer-aided assessment engine to cover more basic mathematics and statistics
  • University of Bath: To investigate and identify promotional activities for the Mathematics Resources Centre (MASH) at the University of Bath
  • University of Leeds: To develop e-assessment activities, including integral calculus and financial mathematics
  • University of Central Lancashire: To assist with the development of a three day outdoor course for mathematicians.
  • Newcastle University: To develop further material for the mathematics and statistics on-line support wiki found at
  • University of Nottingham: To produce engaging support, training and promotional materials for the School of Mathematics' new PASS scheme

Each project will receive a £2,000 grant, with the main purpose being to provide the student interns with experience of working on a time limited project. The outputs of the projects will be shared with the wider community. In addition, the students will be offered the opportunity to present their projects as part of one of the keynote sessions at this year’s CETL-MSOR conference at the University of Greenwich. Details of the conference can be found at

Thank you to all who submitted a proposal.

The funding call for the 2015/16 Student Intern Projects will be issued shortly.  As the overall project finishes on 31 July 2016, this funding call will be offering grants for “in term” rather than summer intern projects.  The funding call will be advertised as widely as possible.


Supporting disabled students in mathematics support centres: Are your written resources accessible?

Emma Cliffe, University of Bath

This is the fourth in a series of articles on supporting disabled students.


Maynooth celebrates 100000th visitor


Example practical barrier

The Mathematics Subject Benchmark states that “learners benefit from seeing arguments developed in 'real time' […] with appropriate emphasis” but students who cannot read the written development effectively cannot access this exposition. To enable engagement, full notes, in a format the student can use in 'real-time' are required!

In school, resources are provided to meet requirements e.g. Braille, large/clear print. One graduate noted that “if you have been reliant on support at school, transition to the University might be a challenge”. Without specialist advice, staff and students may not know how to create output which can be used: “I thought a PDF would be accessible...”. Getting help is challenging if no-one local knows how to get the assistive technology working with mathematical content.

Working in maths support, what is your role? How can you anticipate and plan for the access challenges of communicating mathematics? Do your tutors need training? Can you create accessible written formats? Students missing information in class might find this particularly important. Get started producing resources in formats which can be converted:

Only well-structured documents (e.g. Word styles, LaTeX sections, HTML headers) in which all formulae and symbols are created via equation formatting can be converted.

Unsure? Tell us what you need to know and add to the development of a knowledge base for students and staff in various roles. The project, continuing the work of AccessMSORWG, is just getting started. Get in touch to find out more.


mathtutor goes mobile

Duncan Lawson, sigma Director

Many in the maths support community are familiar with the mathtutor resources consisting of video tutorials and interactive exercises.  Mo Rehman and Pete Chapman at Newman University have completed a pilot project to create a mobile phone app from one of the mathtutor videos.

The app, called ‘math centre percentages’, is available from Apple’s app store and from Google play.  You install it in exactly the same way as any other app.  For the iphone version, simply search the app store for ‘math centre percentages’ and there is the app ready to install.  In Google play, you can use a similar search string and the app is easily located (see figure below).  Alternatively you can get it directly from

The app contains a re-versioned section of the mathtutor percentages video and randomly generated questions so that you can self-assess your progress.

Feedback on the app is most welcome – please send it to Duncan Lawson (

mathcentre percentages app

math centre percentages app


Mapping sigma events to the UK Professional Standards Framework

David Bowers, sigma Network Chair

Are you or your colleagues preparing an application for professional recognition from the Higher Education Academy – Associate Fellow, Fellow or perhaps Senior or Principal Fellow?

The 2011 version of the UK Professional Standard Framework (UKPSF) explicitly includes those who “support learning” – as well as traditional teachers and lecturers – as eligible to apply for Fellowship. This clearly includes people engaged in mathematics and statistics support.

You may have noticed that some recent events organised by the sigma regional Hubs have been mapped against the UKPSF. (You can tell from the hieroglyphics A1, K2, V3 etc.) This means that we believe that if you attend and engage with these events, reflect on the content, and critically evaluate how you apply what you have learned to your professional practice, you may be able to use this as evidence in your application.

sigma is committed to enhancing the professional development opportunities available to the HE mathematics and statistics support community. Mapping our activities where appropriate to the UKPSF is intended to demonstrate the relevance of our provision, and might also help you to get support from your institution to attend.

Please contact me ( if you have suggestions on how the professional development offer of the sigma Network can be improved and extended in the coming years.


Using smartphone technology in mathematics support

Robert Jenkins, Learning Enhancement Tutor: Mathematics and Statistics, University of East Anglia (UEA)

Here at UEA mathematics support is flourishing.  We have been delivering support and creating resources for nearly 10 years.  We love using technology as a tool to help meet the demand for our service.  For example we actively encourage students to use their smartphones in tutorials to take pictures of maths they have been doing.

We have also been developing a deconstructed textbook covering many areas of maths that students can access using smartphone technology. 

Joe Kyle

Short study guides are produced as digital documents and are connected to each other and associated resources (webcasts, worksheets, answer commentaries) via embedded hyperlinks.  All these are collected together in interactive mind-maps hosted in Prezi.  When one of these digital resources is made, a QR-code of the weblink is also created.  We then embed these into our paper resources and encourage students to scan them while they are in a workshop or if they are using the resources in their studies.  This gives quick, easy access to pertinent resources even though a tutor may not be present. 

Whilst embedding QR codes in digital objects is not helpful, we find this approach helps enrich paper resources and is far more useful than giving a long, convoluted web address that no-one will ever type into an address bar. 

Scan this code to access our resources and follow us on twitter @uea_let to find out more about what we are up to.


sigma Evaluating Impact

Moira Petrie, sigma Project Manager

Through its funded projects, sigma is able to monitor outcomes and outputs.  However, we are also keen to assess the impact of the sigma Network on mathematics and statistics support practice across the country and to try to identify reasons for non-involvement with the Network.  As a start to this, in March 2015, members of the sigma-network JISCmail list were invited to complete a short online survey.  The focus of the survey was to ask how the respondents’ engagement with the sigma network has impacted on their own practice.   In addition, respondents were asked to identify other ways they would like support from the sigma Network.  38 respondents completed the survey.

The results are still being analysed but the overall response was very positive.  The results are already helping to inform the work and planning for the remainder of the project.  For example, there is a clear desire for CPD offerings and sigma events are now mapped against the HEA’s UK Professional Standards Framework (UKPSF) and certificates of attendance will now be available.

We are now finalising plans to make contact with those institutions who have not yet engaged with sigma.  Many thanks to those of you who took the time to complete the survey for us.  Your feedback is extremely valuable to us.

Taking the fear out of maths by giving students more confidence

"A new report[1] has come up with encouraging findings, showing just how manageable maths can be, if students avail of the supports available.

Most higher education institutions in Ireland have free maths learning support (MLS) such as drop-in centres, workshops, tutorials or online resources, giving students the opportunity to progress through their maths classes should they encounter difficulties.


The study involved more than 1,600 first year students, in nine colleges, from disciplines as varied as science, engineering, computing, business, arts and education, and the common thread was that maths was one of their subjects, albeit to varying degrees of engagement and difficulty.

Over one-third (36pc) of the students used MLS. Of the remainder, half said they did not need help leading to the conclusion that the other half did, but were not availing of it.

The majority of MLS users reported it had a positive effect on their confidence, performance and ability to cope with the mathematical demands of the course.

Crucially, two in three students who had considered dropping out because of difficulties with maths, said that availing of support was instrumental in their decision to stay.

Female students and mature students are more likely to use an MLS service."

To read the full article by Katherine Donnelly in the Irish Independant (07/05/2015), click here.

[1] Report on Student Evaluation of Mathematics Learning Support: Insight from a large scale multi-institutional survey. Authors: Ciaran O' Sullivan, Ciarán Mac an Bhaird, Olivia Fitzmaurice and Eabhnat Ní Fhloinn.

Pre-exams Maths Café at Royal Holloway

Silke Placzeck, Royal Holloway, University of London

The Centre for the Development of Academic Skills (CeDAS) at Royal Holloway ran a Pre-exams Maths Café on weekday afternoons during the first two weeks of the Summer Term as part of the new Maths and Statistics Advisory Service.

As an extension of the services offered before Easter, students preparing for assessments were invited to drop into the Pre-exams Maths Café to receive one-to-one advice and guidance, as well as access a range of online and paper resources.

Tutors on hand to help were PhD students from Biological Sciences, Computer Science, Earth Sciences and Management, plus a former university Maths Support Tutor, each welcoming subject-specific or more generic enquiries.

Alun Owen

87% of attendees were new to the service and the majority were Year 1 (68%) or Year 2 (26%) students who found the support ‘very useful’ (74%) or ‘useful’ (21%).

With greater promotion ahead of the new academic year, it is expected that awareness will rise, increasing attendance and providing the opportunity for the Centre to make an even greater impact on students’ confidence and success.

As one Earth Sciences undergraduate wrote: Your help was literally invaluable and I'll recommend anyone to come to the Maths Café if they need help!”.
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sigma Project Development at Vision West Nottinghamshire College

Sally Dodsley, Vision West Nottinghamshire College

As one of just two colleges nationally to receive sigma project funding, there has now been a significant shift in the pace of development of maths support here at West Notts: first with a substantial expansion of the college VLE (Moodle) to include a section dedicated to sigma resources, ensuring accessibility for all HE students.

Next came the creation of two ‘Maths Hubs’, in the Vision University Centre at our main campus, and also at the Engineering and Innovation Centre (EIC). The main hub caters for a broad range of HE students, from FdA Criminal Justice students through to Level 6 Applied Studies (Theatre) students. The hub at the EIC offers specific support to Engineers, many of whom are in full time employment and now returning to study part-time.  A sessional lecturer now provides bespoke, contextualised support for the Engineers and this has been received extremely positively.

Finally, an audit of all HE programmes has enabled the development of a number of workshops that support students with a range of mathematical topics including data analysis and equations, and also maths for numeracy testing in assessment centres. These have been delivered as part of the HE Employability Day activities, and materials have also been adjusted to facilitate bespoke support for students applying for QTS programmes in September 2016. Group workshops are supplemented by one-to-one support, where students can talk through specific topics and any maths problems that they may be experiencing.

For many of our students, maths holds a ‘fear factor’ that has been endemic since leaving school and the purpose of much of our activity has been to build confidence and support students to overcome any such anxieties. This has been and continues to be our biggest challenge, and increasingly, our greatest success.
Tony Croft addressing HoDoMS

Vandana Sharma (left) and Sally Dodsley (right) who are leading mathematics and statistics support efforts at Vision West Nottinghamshire College, Mansfield.


Pocket Guide to mathematics Resources - Call for expressions of interest

Trevor Hawkes, sigma Director

When it comes to seeking help for teaching and learning mathematics, the internet offers an embarrassment of riches: video tutorials, animations, mobile apps, interactive web pages, all sorts of assessment software, entertainments, powerful programs to explore, investigate and compute, books, wikis, forums, and probably more digital documents than there are trees for the paper to print them on.  The sheer proliferation of informative and alluring material is overwhelming.

There is a need for a compact and reliable guide to all this material that will make it easy for  maths support tutors to direct their students to the reliable resources they need, as well as to get help for themselves. The Guide should be selective and it should be easy to find what you are looking for. It should include a simple evaluation of each resource and a description of what it offers.

The sigma Network has put out a call for expressions of interest from an individual or consortium to write and publish the Pocket Guide in paper and online versions. A sum of up to £3,000 will be available to the successful bidder(s).

The call is open to colleagues with affiliations in the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland.  If you are interested, please contact me ( or 07557 425036) before 30th June.


New statstutor and mathcentre Community resources

A number of new resources are being added to mathcentre and statstutor following the resource funding calls and contributions to the Communities Centre projects. The next issue of the sigma Newsletter will highlight these resources.

Appointment booking – how does your institution do it?

Charlotte Barton, University of Surrey, and David Bowers, sigma Network

At the end of March 2015, a request was put out simultaneously via the LDHEN and the sigma-network Jiscmail lists, asking for advice on what systems were being used for taking appointment bookings within HE academic support centres (to include maths support centres, library & learning development centres, student support centres). Were people using online systems, or relying on email or personal contact, and how effective were the various methods considered to be?

21 responses were received, including two from overseas. Four relied on email, phone or face-to-face contact, while 17 used some kind of online booking system.

Of the 17 centres that used online booking, five had a bespoke system that had been developed in-house and linked to the student record system. Two used an appointment booking facility available within their VLE (Blackboard or Moodle). The rest used third party applications, either free or subscription based.

The free online tools used included:

  • Google Forms ( )
  • EventBrite (
  • Doodle ( )
  • YouCanBookMe ( )

The paid-for tools used included:

  • Libcal ( )
  • Connect2 ( )
  • Target Connect ( )
  • Appointments Pro ( )
  • SimplyBookMe ( )
  • Parents Evening System ( )
  • WCOnline ( )

In addition to simply finding out what booking systems were used, we were interested in people's views on their effectiveness. In summary:

Direct contact with the student (eg via email) to make an appointment means that the tutor is in control of who (s)he sees and when, compared with an online system. Responding to emails and negotiating with students about dates can be time-consuming. However, it gives an opportunity to mediate expectations and to ask the students to bring in anything that might be appropriate for the particular topic they want to discuss.

An online system for a larger or more complex support service needs to be structured to ensure students choose the most appropriate option, since there is no face-to-face contact to explain the various options. More than one centre reported that students used the freedom of an online booking system to book at will, which might create dependency on the support being available rather than encourage self-efficacy.

More than one respondent highlighted that a disadvantage of an online system might be seen to be the possible loss of confidentiality if information is shared.

Regardless of booking system, there are always complaints about students who book appointments and then don't turn up. Some online systems include automatic reminders, which were shown to improve student attendance and reduce no-shows.

A more detailed analysis of the responses has been produced and is available here.


Maths Sparks

Anthony Cronin, University College Dublin

'Maths Sparks' is a University College Dublin (UCD) staff-student partnership that designs and delivers 4 two-hour problem-solving workshops to 42 visiting post-primary students. These students are from disadvantaged backgrounds, and attend DEIS (Delivering Equality in Schools) designated schools in the Dublin/Wicklow area.

The workshop themes included cryptography, game theory, graph theory, card tricks and the 'Mathematics of Angry Birds'.

The four week programme was project-managed by undergraduate and postgraduate students from the UCD Schools of Mathematical Sciences and Education and was facilitated by lecturers in the School of Mathematical Sciences, Dr Aoibhinn Ni Shuilleabhain and Dr Anthony Cronin.

The programme offered Transition Year (an optional year in the senior cycle school system in the Republic of Ireland) and Fifth Year students opportunities to engage with mathematical puzzles and games that diverge from their post-primary curriculum. We aim to ignite students’ interest in mathematics and particularly hope that engaging with our undergraduate students will encourage some of our attendees to continue their studies in mathematics to third level.

The programme was initially offered to schools involved with the UCD Access Centre. For more information and related articles on the sessions please follow these links:

Keep an eye out for a more in-depth description of the programme in the forthcoming relaunch of MSOR Connections. If you are interested in learning more about Maths Sparks or would like to share your experience of a similar initiative please contact Anthony Cronin at

Maths Sparks

Students participating in a Maths Sparks workshop


Fine Art Maths Centre Blog

Dr Rich Cochrane, Fine Art Maths Centre, Central St Martins

Fine Art Maths Centre is based at Central Saint Martins, a constituent college of University of the Arts London, and is the first centre to be funded by sigma in such an institution.

We have been experimenting with different ways to raise our profile among students and staff. One approach we're trying out is an external-facing blog ( to supplement the resources on our internal VLE.

With no other maths presence in the university, our initial idea was to use the blog for posts about topics we thought might be of general interest to artists. By tailoring these towards upcoming workshop sessions, we have also been able to attract a few extra signups. For example, we're currently running a series of programming-based workshops and posted a piece about the harmonograph, a mechanical device for producing visual images that's quite easy to replicate in software:

We will also use the blog to showcase students' work from the upcoming degree shows and to document what we do in class as with this post on a session devoted to knot theory:

A key advantage of a blog for us is that it doesn't go away; students next year will be able to see some of the topics we've explored and be pointed towards further reading online as well as the resources we have created. These posts can be more informal than anything else we do, giving us a chance to inspire or challenge an audience for whom the concept of a Fine Art Maths Centre is still novel.

Fine Art Maths centre Blog

Central St Martins Fine Art Maths Centre Blog


sigma Prizes for Outstanding Contributions to mathematics and statistics support in HE in 2014/15 - Call for nominations

The sigma Network for Excellence in Mathematics and Statistics Support will award up to three prizes for outstanding contributions to mathematics and statistics support in Higher Education during the current academic year 2014/15.

  • The sigma Prize for Outstanding Contributor 2015: £500 to an individual employed in a higher education institution (UK) who has made a sustained contribution to mathematics and/or statistics support.
  • The sigma Mathematics or Statistics Support Research Paper of the Year 2015: £250 to an author (or authors) of a single outstanding paper that impacts directly or indirectly on support for mathematics and/or statistics in higher education.
  • The sigma Student of the Year 2015: £250 to an undergraduate or postgraduate at a higher education institution (UK) who has made a significant difference to any aspect of mathematics/statistics support.

Full details of the criteria for each category and the nomination process can be found here.

In addition to the monetary award, each recipient will receive a Certificate of Award and one free place at the CETL-MSOR Conference 2015 (Note: only one free place available for the Paper of the Year award). Recipients will be expected to cover their own travel expenses. The prizes will be formally awarded at the Conference Dinner on the evening of Tuesday 8th September 2015.

The c.losing date for nominations is 5 June 2015.


7th Annual Scottish Maths Support Network Meeting - 5 June 2015

Calum Macdonald, Glasgow Caledonian University

The 7th annual meeting of the Scottish Maths Support Network (SMSN), Maths at a Distance, will be held on Friday 5 June at Glasgow Caledonian University.

The program is:

  • Keynote: What has Open University Mathematics Ever Done For Me? - Sally Crighton, Open University
  • Imposed Distance as a Learning Tool - Ewan Russell, University of Keele
  • An Analysis & Evaluation of Using Facebook Groups to Support Student Learning - Shazia Ahmed, University of Glasgow
  • The Engineering Peer Tutors - Kate Durkacz, Edinburgh Napier University
  • Maths Diagnostic Testing for Engineers at GCU: An Initial Study - Calum Macdonald, Glasgow Caledonian University
  • Online Assessment & Feedback: How to Square the Circle - Tara Brendle and Andrew Wilson, University of Glasgow
  • Meeting the Future Needs of Maths Support - David Bowers, Chair of sigma Network.

For further information, please contact: Calum A Macdonald


sigma South East Hub event: Meeting the mathematical needs of pharmacy students – 15 June 2015

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

Following on from the success of Meeting the mathematics needs of pharmacy students hosted at Liverpool John Moores last November, the South East Hub have organised a similar meeting for those who were unable to attend the one in Liverpool.  This is taking place on Monday 15 June in room 1.11 in the Franklin-Wilkins Building at Kings College, London (Waterloo Campus) from 10:30-15:30pm.

The meeting is free and refreshments will be provided.  Directions can be found here:

The meeting should be of interest to anyone involved in providing maths support to pharmacy students and will consist of talks from:

  • Emma Bolton MPharm ARPharmS, British Pharmaceutical Students’ Association Educational Development Officer; 
  • Lisa Smith, Question Writing Coordinator, General Pharmaceutical Council;
  • Sion Coulman, (Cardiff);
  • Matthew Copping (Kent);
  • Martin Greenhow (Brunel) and
  • Jerome Durodie (Greenwich).

Please see the programme for further details.

To book please email Noel-Ann Bradshaw ( declaring any dietary requirements.


Numeracy Skills for Employability and the Workplace -15 June 2015

Numeracy Skills for Employability and the Workplace is a free, online course from the Mathematics Education Centre at Loughborough University starting on 15 June on the FutureLearn platform.

The course aims to prepare students for employers’ numeracy testing which is a barrier to employment for many. Over the three-weeks, students will learn about the rationale for psychometric tests, refresh the numeracy skills that they need to be successful and improve their mathematical confidence. Course components consist of video tutorials, onscreen articles, discussion forums and quizzes for lots of practice. Students may work at their own pace taking longer to complete the course if needed.

To register:

Contact Janette Matthews ( for further information.

Sustaining Excellence

Dyscalculia Day for Students – 17 June 2015

Clare Trott, Loughborough University

Do you know a dyscalculic student in Higher Education?

Many Institutions of Higher Education have only one or two dyscalculic students. We would like to invite the students to join us at Loughborough University on Wednesday 17th June 2015.

On this day we hope some dyscalculic students from various Institutions of Higher Education will come together to explore ideas about dyscalculia through a series of activities. Students will together engage in a range of activities, exchanging and sharing their experiences of dyscalculia in a safe and supportive environment. 

The day’s activities will include:

  • Getting to know each other

  • What does dyscalculia mean to me in HE and in everyday life?

  • What is dyscalculia?

  • Where do we go from here?

Lunch is included and the day is FREE of charge.

 Parents and tutors accompanying attending students are welcome.

For details and to book for this free event please click here. For further information, please contact Clare Trott


sigma North East & Yorkshire Hub event: Breaking down silos - 24 June 2015

Chetna Patel, sigma North east and Yorkshire Hub co-ordinator

The sigma North East and Yorkshire Hub are holding a free networking day on 24 June from 10:30 to 15:30 at the University of York.

The day will be a combination of talks and activities and aims to give the delegates an opportunity to consider their individual needs for service development and get ideas from the experiences of the group. We will also continue developing ways of making our support provision more inclusive.

For the full programme, please click here.

To register, please go to



sigma North West & North Wales Hub Networking event - 25 June 2015

The sigma North West and North Wales Hub is holding a Mathematics and Statistics Support Networking Event at Liverpool John Moores University on Thursday 25 June 2015, starting at 12:30pm.

This event is aimed at those who would like to network with other Mathematics and Statistics support practitioners, share good practice and discuss common issues. This is an ideal opportunity for Institutions to meet up and share experiences and advice.

Guest speakers include:

  • Professor Peter Byers – Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Education) at Liverpool John Moores University
  • Michael Grove – Director of the STEM Education Centre at the University of Birmingham
  • Professor Tony Croft – Professor of Mathematics Education at Loughborough University and a sigma Director
  • Dr Alun Owen – Institute of Science and the Environment, University of Worcester
  • Dr Mark Taylor – Senior Lecturer in Computing and Mathematical Sciences at Liverpool John Moores University

This will be a very informal event, and include lunch and refreshments.

For the agenda and further details click here.

If you would like to attend, please book by emailing Andrew Fox at


Newcastle University and sigma North West & North Wales workshops: Mastering Numbas - 6/7 July 2015

sigma, in conjunction with Newcastle University and the North West and North Wales Hub, is pleased to offer a two day Numbas workshop.  Free and open source, Numbas allows the authoring of questions which include randomised content throughout and LaTeX rendering of mathematical notation. Tests provide instant feedback to the student, including rendering of the student’s answers in mathematical notation while they type, and a practice mode which lets students regenerate randomised questions for further practice without starting a new session.

This free event will be held at Loughborough University on 6th and 7th July 2015 and delegates can attend on one or both days, as required.

Day 1: An Introduction to Numbas
The day will provide an introduction to using Numbas, from logging on to the editor, through selecting questions to make a test, to eventually writing your own questions.

Day 2: Advanced techniques in Numbas
The day will allow help with specific queries as well as demonstrating more advanced techniques. The focus of the day will be to allow delegates to work on their own Numbas projects, with help available from the Numbas team. It will include a session on good question-writing practice as well as a session on enabling collaboration using Numbas (database organisation, managing versions and changes, documentation) and trying out collaboration techniques (review each other’s questions, tag existing questions, triage existing questions into “ready to use” and “has problems”/”doesn’t work”).

The registration form for this event can be found at: .  Registration closes on 26th  June 2015.

For further information, please contact Moira Petrie.


sigma SW&SW Hub event: Statistics for non-statisticians – 7 July 2015

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

The sigma South West & South Wales Hub is hosting a meeting on ‘Statistics for non-statisticians‘ at the University of Bath on Tuesday 7th July 2015 from 10:30 – 16:00.

Those with a strong quantitative background are often approached to give advice on statistical problems, even though they may have no formal training in statistics. This workshop aims to provide non-statisticians with a guide to commonly encountered statistical concepts and their applications.

There is no charge for attending this event and refreshments and lunch will be provided. For further information about the meeting, including a full schedule of the day, and to register your attendance please see:

For those working towards HEA Fellowship, attendance at and engagement with this event, and reflection on its implications for practice, could help to provide evidence towards elements of the UK Professional Standards Framework: A1, A4, A5, K2, K3, K4, V2, V3

For further information please contact Emma Cliffe,


sigma SW&SW Hub workshop: Practical use of R by blind people – Workshop: 10 July 2015

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

The University of Bath is hosting a workshop on Practical use of R by blind people, on Friday 10 July.

The workshop will show how a blind user can make use of R in its console/terminal modes, how we can improve its use through the BrailleR add-on package, and how a blind user could benefit by introducing R markdown into their work practices. There will be time to discuss problems associated with the way a blind person can access statistical content and concepts, as well as exposure to the solutions used by the workshop leader and other blind people in practice.

The workshop will be led by Dr Jonathan Godfrey, one of only two totally blind full-time lecturers of statistics in the world today. He comes from New Zealand (the birthplace of R) and is perhaps the most well-known blind user of R today. His publications include software reviews of R and other statistical software used in university courses. He unashamedly has strong opinions on a range of topics affecting the education of blind students in general and mathematical sciences in particular.

For further information on who might attend this event, what technology attendees require and to request a place please see


Getting a Grip on Mathematical Symbolism – 31 August 2015

This free three-week online course, running for the fourth time on the FutureLearn platform from the Mathematics Education Centre at Loughborough University, is aimed at students aspiring to study science and engineering at university. Through an accessible introduction to graphical and algebraic techniques students will start to think mathematically and develop an informal understanding of vital properties of points, lines and curves before formalising mathematically some of these essential notions. The course closes by reinforcing the importance of mathematics to science and engineering.

To register:

Contact Janette Matthews ( for further information.

Sustaining Excellence

CETL-MSOR 2015: Make time for Greenwich - 8/9 September 2015

Registration is now open for this year’s CETL-MSOR conference, taking place on 8th and 9th September at the University of Greenwich. Early bird rates are available until Friday 3rd July 2015 and general booking closes on Friday 28th August 2015. Note that there is limited availability for hotel accommodation so early booking is recommended.

The call for abstracts is also open. The deadline for submission is Friday 5th June 2015 and notification of acceptance will be provided on Friday 10th July 2015.

Titled “Sustaining Excellence”, the conference will explore ways in which learning and teaching in MSOR is meeting this challenge whilst navigating the ever changing higher education landscape. Full details of the conference can be found at: and here.

Sustaining Excellence

sigma Network Mailing list (SIGMA-NETWORK@JISCMAIL.AC.UK)

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. Archives of previous posts are accessible from the SIGMA-NETWORK JISCMAIL home page.

Please encourage your mathematics and statistics support colleagues and tutors to sign up to the mailing list. It is possible to opt to receive a digest weekly instead of ad-hoc email communications.


sigma Midlands Hub Networking event - 8 May 2015

Ruth Fairclough, sigma Midlands hub Coordinator

It was good to meet mathematics support practitioners from the Midlands area at the mathematics and statistics networking meeting this month. The event was well attended, with Institutions from HE and FE represented. There were more than a few tired eyes as this was the day after the General Election.

Many topics were discussed, including:

  • The likely impact of a Conservative government on the FE and HE sectors
  • Different ways of managing a mathematics support centre (for example Library based or Mathematics Department based)
  • Issues with students requesting help with coursework problems
  • Available tutor training
  • Raising the visibility of mathematics support centres
  • Sustaining mathematics support provision post sigma funding
  • Student transitions into HE and the likely impact of the linear GCSE and A Level mathematics courses

My thanks go to Richard Jones and Kathryn Fantom at Halesowen College for hosting this event. I would be more than happy to organise 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 Eastern England Hub event: GeoGebra and ICT for Maths Support - 15 May 2015

Daniel Brawn, sigma Eastern England

A one day hands-on workshop to introduce maths support practitioners to the software package GeoGebra was held at the University of Essex on 15th May 2015.

Led by Tom Button, an experienced GeoGebra user from the MEI, the event gave participants the chance to try out the various features of GeoGebra and consider ways this software could be used to explain and illustrate concepts in geometry and algebra in an engaging way. Tom could provide hints and tips on features such as the use of dynamic text boxes and controlling parameters by embedding sliders. There is a substantial library of GeoGebra resources at

13 people took part in the workshop, giving positive feedback on the day. “As a complete beginner, I found this extremely useful and inspiring”. Interest was expressed in a longer workshop to explore more advanced features in depth.


Tom Button from MEI, leading the workshop on GeoGebra


Evaluation, Evidence, Impact, Influence - 27 May 2015

Moira Petrie, sigma Project Manager

On Wednesday 27th May, sigma held a workshop on evaluation and feedback, led by Dr David Green (Loughborough University) and Dr Ciarán Mac An Bhaird (Maynooth University). Due to some last minute cancellations, eight delegates from seven institutions attended the workshop, representing a useful mix of new and established provisions.

The workshop used the Gathering student feedback on mathematics and statistics support provision: a guide for those running mathematics support centres (2012) publication as its starting point. Topics discussed included what feedback is worth collecting and why; the institutional demands for impact measurement and benefit demonstration in relation to mathematics and statistics support provision; the possibility of using a set of common questions (or other collaborations) across HEIs; and potential associated research projects.

Thank you to everyone who attended for keeping the conversations flowing and making the event very informative and productive.


The 9th Annual Irish Workshop on Mathematics Learning and Support Centres - 29 May 2015

Anthony Cronin, University College Dublin

The 9th Annual Irish Workshop on Mathematics Learning and Support Centres took place on Friday 29 of May 2015 in University College Dublin in Ireland.

The Conference Theme was Maximizing the impact of digital supports in Mathematics Learning Support in Higher Education. Invited speakers included:

  • Chris Sangwin, Senior Lecturer in the Mathematics Education Centre at Loughborough University
  • Shazia Ahmed, Maths Adviser & Co-ordinator of NUMBER Student Maths Support at the University of Glasgow
  • Madonna Herron, Lecturer in Mathematics/Theoretical Computer Science from Ulster University at Jordanstown.

We also had local contributions on topics such as

  • "collecting and analysing useful qualitative data based on students' visits to a Maths Support Centre"
  • "development of a vectors app to support learning in A-level mathematics"
  • "Virtual Mathematics Support across a multi-campus institution" and
  • "Virtual Maths Support at the Open University"

For details of the full conference programme including all titles and abstracts please consult the following website or contact the local organiser Anthony Cronin at


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.


Tolley H. and MacKenzie H. (2015) Senior Management Perspectives on Mathematics and Statistics Support in Higher Education. sigma

Journal and Conference Publications

Berry, E., Mac An Bhaird, C. and O'Shea A. (2015) Investigating relationships between the usage of Mathematics Learning Support and performance of at-risk students. doi: 10.1093/teamat/hrv005

Rylands, L. & Shearman, D. (2015) Supporting engagement or Engaging Support. IJISME 23(1)

Conference Presentations

No presentations were submitted for this issue.



The sigma e-Newsletter is a quarterly community publication and the views expressed do not
necessarily constitute recommendations from the sigma Directorate.

We welcome contributions on any topic that may be of interest to practitioners and academics
supporting higher education students in their learning of mathematics and statistics. Please contact
Janette Matthews (

The deadline for contributions for the next edition (September 2015) is 31 July 2015.

For more information, visit
or contact
#mathssupport, #statssupport

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