Month: September 2017

SATs for seven-year-olds axed from 2023

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Controversial tests taken by England’s seven-year-olds will be scrapped by 2023, but nine-year-olds will have to sit times table tests under new plans.

Announcing the end to compulsory SATs, the government said children would instead have a “baseline” check in reception year, aged four or five.

This would allow their progress to be tracked and would “free up” teachers, the education secretary said.

But times table tests for year four pupils will be introduced in 2019/20.

The Key Stage 1 tests in reading, writing, maths and science – used to monitor schools’ progress – have been compulsory for seven-year-olds in England with around 500,000 children taking them each year.

But they have proved controversial, with many teachers and parents opposed to putting young pupils through the tests.

Those who support the tests argue that they ensure schools are helping children grasp the basics and identify children who are struggling.

The government announced on Thursday that they would no longer be compulsory from 2023.

Instead there would be a baseline assessment of children’s abilities in their reception year, at the start of their schooling, which would then be used to measure their progress throughout the school. Children will still sit SATs at age 11.

Schools would also not be required to submit assessments of pupils’ reading and maths to the government aged 11 – because they were already being tested in year 6.

This would help “free up teachers to educate and inspire young children while holding schools to account in a proportionate and effective way,” Ms Greening said.

But times table tests – initially floated last year for pupils aged 11 – would be sat two years earlier in year four, from 2019/20 to help children’s “fluency in mathematics”.

Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said the tests would be “a waste of valuable time, energy and money and should not be introduced”.

“The reception baseline assessment and multiplication tables check will be of no educational benefit to children and break a promise not to increase the assessment burden on primary schools.”

But Nick Brook of the school leaders’ union NAHT said the baseline assessments at reception were “absolutely the right thing to do” and, if designed properly, would provide useful information for schools while avoiding “unnecessary burdens on teachers or anxiety for young children”.

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Babylonian mystery solved: 3,700-year-old ‘Indiana Jones’ tablet reveals its secrets

Scientists have revealed the secrets of a mysterious 3,700-year-old Babylonian clay tablet found by the archaeologist who inspired the fictional ‘Indiana Jones’.

Experts at the University of New South Wales Sydney in Australia have uncovered the purpose of the famous tablet, which they describe as the world’s oldest and most accurate trigonometric table. The artifact, they say, may have been used to by ancient scribes to help in the construction of palaces, temples and canals.

The tablet, known as Plimpton 322, was discovered in the early 1900s in what is now Southern Iraq by archaeologist, academic, diplomat and antiquities dealer Edgar Banks, who provided the inspiration for the fictional character ‘Indiana Jones.’


“Plimpton 322 has puzzled mathematicians for more than 70 years, since it was realised it contains a special pattern of numbers called Pythagorean triples,” says Dr. Daniel Mansfield of the School of Mathematics and Statistics in the UNSW Faculty of Science, in a statement.

The tablet’s purpose has long baffled experts. It was not clear why the scribes had performed the complex task of generating and sorting the numbers on the tablet, according to Mansfield.

“Our research reveals that Plimpton 322 describes the shapes of right-angle triangles using a novel kind of trigonometry based on ratios, not angles and circles. It is a fascinating mathematical work that demonstrates undoubted genius,” he said. “The tablet not only contains the world’s oldest trigonometric table; it is also the only completely accurate trigonometric table, because of the very different Babylonian approach to arithmetic and geometry.”


The tablet, which is thought to have come from the ancient Sumerian city of Larsa sometime between 1822 and 1762 B.C., is now in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Columbia University in New York.

A useful mathematical tool before the advent of calculators, trigonometric tables let you use one known ratio of the sides of a right-angle triangle to determine the other two unknown ratios.

The 15 rows on the tablet describe a sequence of 15 right-angle triangles, which are steadily decreasing in inclination, according to the UNSW. The left-hand edge of the tablet, however, is broken, although scientists built on previous research to present new mathematical evidence that there were originally six columns and the tablet was meant to be completed with 38 rows.


Researchers also demonstrated how ancient scribes, who used a base 60 numerical arithmetic similar to our time clock, rather than the modern base 10 number system, could have generated the numbers on the tablet.

The research provides an alternative theory to the widely-held view that the Plimpton 322 was a teacher’s aid for checking students’ solutions of quadratic problems. “Plimpton 322 was a powerful tool that could have been used for surveying fields or making architectural calculations to build palaces, temples or step pyramids,” said Mansfield, who first read about the tablet when preparing material for first-year math students.

UNSW scientists note that Plimpton 322 predates Greek astronomer Hipparchus, regarded as the father of trigonometry, by more than 1,000 years.


“It is wonderful that Mr. Mansfield’s work with Norman Wildberger is bringing more attention to this treasure of Columbia,” explained Jennifer Lee, a curator at Columbia University’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library, in a statement emailed to Fox News.

Plimpton 322 is one of 629 tablets written in ancient cuneiform script held by the Library. The tablet was bequeathed to Columbia by publisher George Arthur Plimpton, who had purchased the artifact from Edgar Banks.


Lee said that the idea of Plimpton 322 as a teaching tool is particularly apt, noting that Plimpton was a textbook publisher and he collected widely on the history of education. 

Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers

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Win $1 million By Creating A Computer Code To Solve This Simple Puzzle

Researchers from the University of St. Andrews have concluded that any programmer that could make a computer solve the famous “Queens puzzle” would change the entire IT industry as well as bag the $1m prize offered by the Clay Mathematics Institute in America.

The Queens puzzle is a very simple conundrum. Can you place eight queens on a chess board in such a way that no two queens can attack each other? So no queen can share the same row, column, or diagonal. It was first devised in 1850 and any human with a bit of patience can solve it.

So where’s the catch? Computers can’t do it as easily. Computers go through all potential options and the more options you have, the more it takes computers to work the solution out. According to the paper, Journal of Artificial Intelligence, after the chess board becomes larger than 1,000 by 1,000 the computers can’t cope anymore.

“If you could write a computer program that could solve the problem really fast, you could adapt it to solve many of the most important problems that affect us all daily,” lead author Professor Ian Gent said in a statement.

“This includes trivial challenges like working out the largest group of your Facebook friends who don’t know each other or very important ones like cracking the codes that keep all our online transactions safe.”

This is just a variation of the famous computer problem known as P versus NP. The crux of it is quite straightforward: can every problem that can be verified quickly also be solved quickly? For example, if I ask to find the divisors of 4,199 it would take you a fair bit of time to try many numbers. But it’s quick and easy to verify that 4,199 is only divisible by 13, 17, and 19 (apart from 1 and itself).

Many believe that not every problem can be solved as quickly as it can be verified, but if you think you can write an algorithm that can do that (or prove that it’s impossible), researchers want to hear from you.

“There is a $1,000,000 prize for anyone who can prove whether or not the Queens Puzzle can be solved quickly so the rewards are high,” co-author Dr Christopher Jefferson added.

So, computer scientists and programming buffs, get coding.

One of the solutions for the Queens Puzzle. Chris Jones/IFLScience.


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3,700-Year-Old Babylonian Tablet Decoded

Almost a century ago, Edgar Banks – the inspiration for Indiana Jones – dug up a clay tablet in southern Iraq, but it took until now for its meaning to be understood. With this explanation has come insight into Babylonian mathematics, which operated on a different, and in some ways preferable, system than our own.

In 1945, it was realized that the tablet, known as Plimpton 322 after it was sold to collector George Plimpton for $10, had mathematical significance, but the details remained a mystery. New research argues it represents part of a trigonometric table, and one more accurate than those that came afterwards.

Plimpton 322’s burial location in what was once the city of Larsa indicates it’s 3,700 years old, dating from the time of Hammurabi, who established one the earliest surviving legal codes. “Plimpton 322 has puzzled mathematicians for more than 70 years, since it was realized it contains a special pattern of numbers called Pythagorean triples,” said Dr Daniel Mansfield of the University of New South Wales in a statement. Pythagorean triples are any whole numbers a, b, and c that can form a right-angle triangle through the formula a2 + b2 = c2, with 3, 4, and 5 being the most familiar example.

“The huge mystery, until now, was its purpose – why the ancient scribes carried out the complex task of generating and sorting the numbers on the tablet,” Mansfield continued.

Mansfield became interested in the problem and collaborated with his colleague Dr Norman Wildberger to try to unravel it. Wildberger is the inventor of a new way of doing trigonometry, based on the ratio of sides rather than angles. In 2005, he published a book, Divine Proportions: Rational Trigonometry to Universal Geometry, demonstrating that any problem that can be solved using traditional trigonometric methods canalso  be solved using his technique, and often more easily for those who have taken the time to learn it.

The idea of Plimpton 322 as a trigonometric table had been raised before, and eventually rejected, but this was done in the absence of an understanding of Wildberger’s methods.

Mansfield and Wildberger concluded that the ancient Babylonians had beaten Wildberger to his ideas by almost four millenia, albeit only for right-angled triangles. They report in Historica Mathematica that instead of using sinΘ, cosΘ, and tanΘ as we do – something we inherited from the ancient Greeks – Plimpton 322 could be used by anyone needing to know the length of one side of a right-angled triangle by finding the closest match to the two known sides.

“Our research reveals that Plimpton 322 describes the shapes of right-angle triangles using a novel kind of trigonometry based on ratios, not angles and circles,” Mansfield said. “It is a fascinating mathematical work that demonstrates undoubted genius.” The tablet would have been useful to architects or surveyors.

At some point since its making, a section of Plimpton 322 broke off. What remains are the side lengths for 15 right-angle triangles, ordered by inclination. Mansfield and Widlberger believe there were once 38 rows and 6 columns, making a truly impressive store of possible triangles.

The use of ratios in combination with the Babylonian base sixty number system, from which we get the length of our hours and minutes, made for an arguably superior method for calculating trigonometry to the table of chords created by the Greek mathematician Hipparchus more than 1,000 years later.

Mansfield told IFLScience that we have no idea why Babylonian trigonometry was lost. While it is possible that ancient mathematicians decided Hipparchus’ work was superior, it is also possible that Larsa and other centers of this knowledge lost a war, taking valuable knowledge with it. Mansfield noted that there is a gap in our records of the Babylonian civilization lasting several centuries.

When artifacts appear again, what we find comes mixed with influences from other cultures. Still, many Babylonian tablets have yet to be examined in detail, even aside from those that have yet to be dug up, so there may be plenty more we can learn about  Babylonian mathematics now that we have a hint.

For all the merits of Wildberger’s system, it has struggled to gain a foothold among mathematicians and teachers well versed in classical trigonometry. However, Mansfield speculates that Plimpton 322 might change this. The use of ratios rather than angles could become a matter of great interest to historians of mathematics, who may learn more about how it was done. Eventually, it may be taught in schools to show there is more than one way to think about trigonometry.


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Lost Alan Turing Letters Found In Cupboard Reveal His True Opinions Of The USA

A remarkable archive of letters from the late and brilliant Alan Turing in the mid-20th century has been found hiding in a storeroom at the University of Manchester in the UK.

The find of 148 documents was made by Professor Jim Miles of the School of Computer Science, who had been reorganizing the storeroom when he came across them. The letters date from early 1949 until Turing’s tragic suicide in June 1954.

“When I first found it I initially thought, ‘that can’t be what I think it is’, but a quick inspection showed it was, a file of old letters and correspondence, by Alan Turing,” said Professor Miles in a statement. “I was astonished such a thing had remained hidden out of sight for so long. No one who now works in the School or at the University knew they even existed. It really was an exciting find and it is [a] mystery as to why they had been filed away.”

Although the letters reveal little about Turing’s personal life, they do show how highly regarded he was at the time. This is despite his work at Bletchley Park, when he helped crack the German Enigma machine in World War Two, still being under wraps.

University of Manchester

He had numerous offers to lecture at universities or attend events in the US, based on his previous work on artificial intelligence, computing, and mathematics. One of these was from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

However, it seems Turing himself wasn’t that keen on going to the US. In response to one invitation in April 1953, he said: “I would not like the journey, and I detest America.”

Another batch of letters found in 2015 shed more light on Turing’s tortured personal life, which saw him prosecuted for homosexual acts in 1952. He was later pardoned posthumously in 2013, having committed suicide via cyanide poisoning in 1954.

While these latest letters do not reveal any more about his personal life, they do give us more of an insight into his professional life. You can view all of the letters online here.

“The letters mostly confirm what is already known about Turing’s work at Manchester, but they do add an extra dimension to our understanding of the man himself and his research,” said Archivist James Peters in the statement. “As there is so little actual archive on this period of his life, this is a very important find in that context. There really is nothing else like it.”

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Breaking the code: how women in Nigeria are changing the face of tech

Female developers are emerging as influential forces in the countrys booming technology sector but the stigma persists that computing is a male industry

The Nigerian tech scene is booming. Last year, Lagos-based startup Andela received $24m (18.5m) in funding from Mark Zuckerberg. In 2015, financial technology startup Paystack one of the first Nigerian tech companies to be accepted into renowned California-based startup accelerator Y Combinator secured approximately $1.3m in seed investment from international investors.

Within this growth, women are emerging as influential forces, and changing the face of technology in Africa, especially in the fields of agricultural and financial tech. This is despite the fact that, as recently as a decade ago, women were grossly underrepresented in and excluded from the industries they are now helping to shape.

I think those who are joining the tech world today have an easier path to tread, says Nnenna Nwakanma, a Nigerian activist for accessible internet. There were situations where people would refuse to recognise my authority, but would patronise or objectify me, or refuse to fulfil contracts they had willingly entered into all because of my gender. Despite this, Nwakanma co-founded the Free Software and Open Source Foundation for Africa (FOSSFA) and is now a senior policy manager for the World Wide Web Foundation, where she supports digital equality and promotes the rights of Nigerian women online.

The negative attitude towards womens involvement in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (Stem) is starting to change, thanks partly to initiatives such as the Stem outreach and mentoring programmes established by the Working to Advance Science and Technology Education for African Women (WAAW) Foundation, which operates in 11 countries. There is also Intels programme She Will Connect Africa, which has trained more than 150,000 women in Nigeria, South Africa and Kenya in digital literacy since it launched in 2013.

The demand for tech talent is now such that it cannot be met by men alone. Rapid digitalisation in Nigeria is heavily concentrated in the countrys metropolitan megacity, Lagos. Here, the startup culture flourishes, while big business have moved in: in 2015, global tech supplier Bosch opened a subsidiary in Ikeja, the capital of Lagos region, and Microsoft has an office in the affluent Lagos neighbourhood of Ikoyi.

Ire Aderinokun the author of web development blog, a front-end developer and Nigerias first female Google Developer Expert says her love of tech started as a hobby. I used to play an online game called Neopets, which had some HTML capabilities. From there, I got really interested and continued to learn more. But, despite Aderinokuns enthusiasm, her interest was not always encouraged. Its definitely not what society expected of me. I studied psychology for my undergraduate and law for my masters. When I said I wanted to pursue this, there were many people who told me not to.

Rukayat Sadiq, a software engineer and a technical team leader at Andela, also faced opposition. She chose to study electrical engineering a subject in which a class of 150 students might include only 15 women to the surprise of friends and family, who had expected her to become a doctor.

While women entering and participating equally in the labour market is commonplace in Nigeria, computing and engineering are still industries dominated heavily by men. But many women who work in the tech industry are keen to offer support to those coming up. Aderinokun, for example, is funding full scholarships to five women for online programming nanodegrees. These qualifications do not guarantee employment, but they give those who have earned them a distinct advantage in the workplace and are endorsed by top employers, including Google, AT&T and Amazon. Sadiq also spends time teaching and mentoring newbies.

Removing the stigma and assumption that tech is only supposed to be for men is necessary, and I think we need to start from as early in childrens lives as possible, says Aderinokun. We should work towards eliminating negative statements and mindsets that perpetuate the myth that women cant be involved in Stem.

It is hopeful that we will one day get to a point where tech-related fields are level playing grounds for both sexes.

It is a challenge that continues around the globe, but it is one Nigeria is well equipped to handle.

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