For my regular readers and those that have been to any of my “getting ready to teach” events will know that I have an opinion about “frequency trees” – which started with an evening of fun on Twitter many, many months ago when we were trying to figure out what they were, because at the time there was NOTHING available about them and we came to the conclusion that they were “made up maths”. As it turns out they are used and there are even a couple of blogs about them .. but if you “google” frequency trees .. guess what comes up? Loads of my previous posts about them!
Welllllll ….. Last week I was asked for my reaction to a story in the Washington Post ( LINK TO ARTICLE ) about how teachers in the US don’t want to teach Shakespeare … This is what I wrote:
Before we’ve even started teaching the new “big fat” maths GCSE I’d remove Frequency Trees. For the uninitiated amongst you they look like decision trees or probability trees but are a way of organising information. They have no real footing in maths academia and are totally pointless (two-way tables do the job just as well and because of their similarity to other types of tree we are introducing another opportunity for students to make mistakes) yet have appeared on the new programme of study from the DfE out of nowhere. My message to the “powers that be”: In future send every maths teacher on twitter a bottle of wine and we’ll come up with some “new maths” (the wine might oil the cogs and get the creative juices flowing) because as it turns out it’s really easy to invent “stuff … I present you “guinea pig maths”.
PS: Dawn Denyer has ok’d the use of her patented illustration of it on the attached photo.
The quote that actually appeared in the GUARDIAN ARTICLE wasn’t so light hearted (and yes I do think I’m funny! Well I amuse myself!) … the fact remains that someone, somewhere arbitrarily made the decision to introduce something into the maths curriculum that isn’t groundbreaking in maths academia. Let me try to explain … twenty *ahem* years ago when I did my first GCSE (WJEC by the way … and I got an A … A* didn’t exist!) stem and leaf diagrams weren’t around and whilst they are useful for organizing information I don’t see them as essential maths either for higher level maths or even for real-life. Put it this way … before I came into teaching I survived 20 years without EVER thinking I know what I need is a way or putting a list of data into ascending order. Just look at the fact that traditional “draw a stem and leaf” style exam questions will be a thing of the past come 2017 … maybe Frequency Trees will go the same way in the next GCSE change (there will be one along soon no doubt!).
Anyway … imagine the irony that in putting together our list of topics for the Big Fat 50 the first topic that we decided to put in was “Frequency Trees” and it was made even worse by the fact that I get a text from Seager this evening saying “Big Fat 50 is go!” with the below picture.
These things are going to haunt me …. On the plus side having delivered training on some of the new topics I have some lovely resources for the topic that will be my nemesis.
PS: Please don’t be sending me links to where they are used in real-life or links to David Spiegelhalter’s BLOG . I know all about them as I’ve spent shit loads of my time looking into it. Yet I still think they’re pointless maths (don’t get me wrong I think they’re useful for organizing data and information but hardly “essential” maths that I’d want the next generation of mathematicians to leave school knowing) but the fact remains they are one of the “new to GCSE” topics and make several appearances in the SAMs.
PPS: Don’t be thinking I’ll be all negative about this topic when I teach it … that’s not my style! I will “big” it up and make it sound so much more essential than I truly think it is .. just remember I’m entitled to an opinion as are you!