sigma Network Newsletter
Issue 12: October 2016

In this issue:



Future events

Past events



A new era for the sigma Network

David Bowers - Chair, sigma Network

This twelfth issue of the sigma Network Newsletter marks the end of the three year period of HEFCE funding 2013-16 to enhance and increase the quality and scope of sigma’s work on behalf of the higher education mathematics and statistics support community. The final report for HEFCE is currently being put together – but the annual reports of the previous two years, together with this Newsletter, our mailing list and our website, describe the impressive range of activities carried out, overseen by the sigma Directors and the regional hub co-ordinators. The three years have flown by, and targets have been met and exceeded. All credit to everyone involved.

David Bowers, <strong>sigma</strong> Chair

A key objective for the past three years has been to demonstrate that the work of the sigma Network can be sustainable in the longer term. This has been achieved. A new Steering Group has been elected to take the sigma Network forward as a professional association on the basis of a new constitution, all of which was ratified at the recent inaugural AGM (see report later in this Newsletter).

The Steering Group will ensure the continuation of regional networking meetings, professional development events and tutor training days – the first of which have already been planned and are announced later in this Newsletter. Our new Special Interest Groups (SIGs) have kicked off their work and presented their plans at the recent CETL-MSOR Conference. A new websites working group has been created to ensure the further development of our online resources, notably mathcentre and statstutor.

All of this will depend on the continued engagement and involvement of the mathematics and statistics support community – this means you! Do not hesitate to get in touch with ideas for future events and activities, and offer your energy and experience to help make things happen.

And what of the future for this Newsletter? We certainly hope to continue it, with at least two issues a year. If anyone out there has a sub-editor’s eye for detail and a tenacity to chase contributions as deadlines loom, do please volunteer to join the Newsletter team! Email me at

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Report of the Inaugural Annual General Meeting

David Bowers - Chair, sigma Network

The Inaugural Annual General Meeting of the sigma Network was held on 6th September 2016 at Loughborough University. Fifty-one people representing thirty-four institutions attended.

The purpose of the AGM was to confirm the future role of the sigma Network as a professional association for those involved with mathematics and statistics support in Higher Education, as a direct continuation of sigma’s work as a funded project until summer 2016.

It was an integral part of the recent HEFCE funding agreement that sustainability measures would be put in place, so that the sigma Network could continue to thrive as a “community of practice” for those involved in mathematics and statistics support into the future. The sigma Directors, Advisory Board and Hub Co-ordinators had considered in detail various options for the most appropriate way forward, as reported in previous issues of this Newsletter.

The sigma Network Chair, David Bowers, explained why it was important to put formal procedures in place:

  • To ensure continuation of current practice and existing networks, building on the success of the sigma Network over recent years in engaging and providing development opportunities for the mathematics and statistics support community;
  • To safeguard the acknowledged reputational capital of sigma, and protect the brand;
  • To maintain activity which is provided by the sector for the sector;
  • To curate and further develop the resources that have accumulated under sigma over the past years , for example mathcentre and statstutor;
  • To retain sigma’s position as the leading professional network for mathematics and statistics support practitioners in higher education, with a national and increasingly international reach;
  • To demonstrate sound governance, with an eye to future partnerships and collaborations.

The meeting voted to ratify the membership of the new Steering Group, who would lead the sigma Network into its new era as a professional association. It was noted that Steering Group members had the management support of their institutions to take on this role.

The meeting voted to ratify and adopt the constitution that would guide the governance of the sigma Network in future. It was noted that considerable discussion among the former sigma Directors, and legal advice, had informed the final wording of the constitution.

Finally, the meeting acknowledged and expressed huge gratitude for the excellent and inspirational work carried out by the sigma Directorate (Tony Croft, Duncan Lawson, Trevor Hawkes, Michael Grove).

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Closing words from the sigma Directors

Over the last few years we, as Directors of sigma, have felt privileged to lead its work. As many of you will know, we have been involved in the activities of sigma since it was first established as part of the Centres for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL) initiative back in 2005. While the CETL award recognised excellence, we have been fortunate to witness the development of excellence in the years that followed as the national remit of sigma has expanded, firstly through the National HE STEM Programme and most recently through a direct HEFCE grant. In the 11 years since sigma’s origins, excellence in mathematics and statistics support is now widespread and embedded within a higher education sector that works to support student learning of mathematics and statistics for students across all years and disciplines of study.

Although we may have begun by using the word ‘lead’, the reality is that much of the work of sigma that has taken place in the last seven or so years has actually been led by the mathematics support community itself, through the expansion of provision, the development of new delivery approaches, and an evidence-based body of knowledge that continues to grow each year. The sigma Network is moving into a new phase in its activities and one where the current Directors will be stepping back and reducing their involvement in its work. While this does not mean we will be turning away from all that has been established, it is time for a new generation of leaders to take forward the activities of sigma on behalf of the community. The newly formed sigma Steering Group will be key in promoting and championing mathematics support and co-ordinating national activities. However, every individual also has a vital role in not only continuing the excellent work that they are doing, but in warmly welcoming others who are new to this mathematics support community. This latter aspect has been a key factor in all that sigma has achieved. We wish everyone the very best for the future.

Tony Croft, Michael Grove and Duncan Lawson.

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sigma prizes 2016

The sigma Network for Excellence in Mathematics and Statistics Support is delighted to recognise the outstanding achievement of our colleagues and students through the sigma prizes 2016:

sigma Prize for Outstanding Contribution 2016 – Dr Emma Cliffe, University of Bath.

Emma has been recognised for her contribution to mathematics education and support, particularly her work to help address issues around accessibility. She was presented with the sigma Prize for Outstanding Contribution at the CETL-MSOR Conference 2016.

Emma Cliffe receiving her award from Professor Duncan Lawson

sigma Prize: Student of the Year 2016 – Noor Talaimojeh, Middlesex University

Noor has been recognised for her outstanding contribution to student support in mathematics at Middlesex University. Noor is now a third year BSc Mathematics student who is an enthusiastic and committed student with a passion for mathematics. She utilises this passion and enthusiasm to inspire others. She does this through her role as a mathematics Student Learning Assistant, as a founder member of the Mathematics Society at Middlesex, and as a Mathematics Ambassador at outreach events. She was presented with this prize at the CETL-MSOR Conference 2016.

Noor Talaimojeh receiving her award from Professor Duncan Lawson

sigma Prize: Student of the Year 2016 – Sofia Marie Karadimitriou, Sheffield University

Sofia Marie Karadimitriou has been recognised for her dedication and commitment to teaching statistics and student support in statistics through the MASH centre at the University of Sheffield. Most notably, Sofia Marie has developed a number of R resources to be submitted to the website. She was presented with this prize at the CETL-MSOR Conference 2016.

Sofia Marie Karadimitriou receiving her award from Professor Duncan Lawson
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The sigma-network Jiscmail list

David Bowers - Chair, sigma Network

Our Jiscmail mailing list currently has almost 300 subscribers, all of whom have an active interest in mathematics and statistics support. An increasing number are joining from overseas, which opens up the exciting potential of international dialog, sharing of experiences and collaboration. The sigma Network will be using this mailing list as the main channel for disseminating information and announcing events – although rest assured, we are exploring other social media options too. So if you or your colleagues have not already joined, please do so! It is free to join our Jiscmail mailing list. Simply visit and follow the instructions to subscribe. There is the option to choose a weekly digest of messages if you prefer to control the flow of messages into your inbox. We look forward to welcoming you to the sigma Network mailing list.

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sigma Special Interest Groups

David Bowers - Chair, sigma Network

In recent years, a number of themes have emerged that are of interest to a wide range of maths support practitioners, and that impact on the work of maths support centres. Therefore the sigma Network is piloting three Special Interest Groups (SIGs) that can allow people to collaborate and share experiences and resources within that particular aspect of maths support.

The three current SIGs are themed around:
  • Accessibility
  • Employability
  • The particular needs of statistics support

We intend that the SIGs will complement the existing regional hub networking structure, and provide a platform for theme-based collaboration nationally and internationally.

Anyone who would like to join one of these SIGs, or simply find out more, should see the contact details below.


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sigma Special Interest Group: Accessibility

Emma Cliffe

Motivation and coverage

The Accessibility SIG covers a wide remit of issues which could:

  • Impact access to mathematics and/or statistics within a course and/or
  • Impact access to mathematics and statistics support itself.

This might include:
  • students with maths anxiety, Specific Learning Difficulties (SpLD), Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD), sensory impairment, restricted mobility/motor control, mental health, fatigue or pain conditions;
  • widening participation considerations or
  • language barriers.
The plan

The SIG will not attempt to address each of these from scratch! An efficient way forward will be to start to identify key individuals and groups within the sector that already have interest and expertise in this field, and establish a dialogue to draw out existing knowledge, experience and resources as they relate to mathematics support. In particular, the former access working group of the HEA MSOR Network (AccessMSORWG) will be subsumed into this SIG and those who have published or spoken on relevant topics will be contacted over time.

We will start to establish the needs of maths support practitioners via a survey sent out on the sigma Network mailing list – please take the time to fill it in. We aim to respond with maths support specific advice. Topics might include: the physical maths support environment; making resources more accessible; training tutors and collaboration with other student support services. We also plan to advise on feasible, incremental improvements to mathcentre and statstutor.

Keep in touch or get involved

Can you give input in your specific areas of interest and expertise? Would you like to be more closely involved? Would you just like to hear updates? Keep an eye on the sigma mailing list for our survey and call to join the mailing list. To find out more and get involved you can also make contact with Emma Cliffe or Clare Trott.

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sigma Special Interest Group: Employability

Peter Rowlett

The sigma Network recently set up a Special Interest Group (SIG) on Employability, to bring together maths support practitioners from across the country (and beyond) with a particular interest in supporting students with numerical, mathematical and statistical skills to enhance their employability.

Current Members: Jeff Waldock and Peter Rowlett (SHU) (Chairs); Noel-Ann Bradshaw (Greenwich); Jonathan Cole (QUB); Dave Faulkner and Frances Whalley (Herts); Laura Hooke (Loughborough in London); Kinga Zaczek (RHUL).

New members are very welcome to get involved – please email Jeff Waldock and Peter Rowlett to volunteer.

We have three goals for our activity:

1. Source or develop resource materials for staff working with students to develop their employability, including:

  • individual support for students with typical job application tests;
  • delivery of taught sessions.
A questionnaire is being developed to collect community views of requirements (look out for this on the sigma mailing list).

2. Create a guide for staff aiming to develop student employability through the taught curriculum, to include:

  • reflection and action planning;
  • communication;
  • team-working, etc.

3. Gather and publish a collection of short case studies of successful practice, from across the academic spectrum relevant to sigma. Volunteers are sought for this – a template will be provided. Please email Peter Rowlett to volunteer.

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sigma Special Interest Group: Statistics

Alun Owen

Ellen Marshall

After an initial kick off meeting in May, two key priorities have emerged for the Statistics SIG, one relating to statistics resources and the other to supporting staff in HE teaching statistics who are not specialists themselves in that subject. A further meeting of those interested in this SIG was held at the CETL-MSOR Conference in September, with some ideas put forward as to how the SIG might be able to have some impact with these two issues. Since the CETL-MSOR Conference, the Statistics SIG now has around 35 members covering the UK, Ireland, Czech Republic and Norway who have expressed an interest in keeping in touch with the work of this SIG.

The issue of resources relates partly to filling the gaps for resources that are not currently available via statstutor, such as, for example, resources relating to the use of R, SPSS, Minitab and STATA, but also with regard to the need to improve the search facility for resources in statstutor. The search facility in statstutor has since been discussed at a sub-group meeting of the sigma network steering committee, led by Eugenie Hunsicker (Loughborough University), which is looking at the wider issue of websites in general within the sigma network. We hope this will lead to some improvements with the search facility in statstutor in the future. Filling the gaps for resources that are currently not available is an ongoing need, and we would urge network members to consider modifying an existing statstutor resource (the original source files for Word or LaTeX are available for most resources contributed via the statstutor community project), and adapting this to use SAS, Minitab or STATA etc. and contributing this back to the statstutor community project at Some R versions of SPSS resources have recently been added to statstutor through the communities project.

The issue of supporting staff in HE teaching statistics who are not specialists themselves in that subject is an issue the SIG plans to consider further. If you have any ideas for how we might offer such support, or if you would like to become a member (membership is free!) and be kept informed of developments with the Statistics SIG, please do get in touch with one of the two Statistics SIG leads, either Alun Owen or Ellen Marshall.

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CETL MSOR 2016 - A Brave New World!

The first Tuesday in September saw the arrival of 126 delegates at Loughborough University for the start of the 2106 CETL-MSOR conference. These delegates represented over 50 different institutions and organisations, including a welcome number from Scotland, Ireland, Norway and the Czech Republic.

The first keynote was given by Professor Mark Chaplain, Gregory Chair of Applied Mathematics at the University of St Andrews, who discussed mathematical modelling within a biomedical context.

After a full day of presentations, the delegates were invited to attend the conference drinks reception and dinner, held at Holywell Park. The evening’s entertainment was provided by the English folk band Leveret who performed before and after dinner. During dinner, a number of presentations were made to acknowledge the formal end of the HEFCE-funded sigma project and specifically to thank some of those involved in its success, including Joe Kyle (University of Birmingham), Tony Croft (Loughborough University), Trevor Hawkes (Coventry University) and Moira Petrie (Loughborough University).

Day 2 of the conference was opened by a keynote presentation by Professor Chris Linton, President of the IMA, on the expanding reach of the mathematical sciences and its implications for undergraduate curricula.

The final keynote of the conference was given by students who had undertaken one of the sigma funded student intern projects. The students excelled at presenting their work and certainly stimulated conversation over lunch.

The conference was closed, as is customary, with a plenary talk by Dr Joe Kyle. Joe reminded everyone that the future of the conference has been assured for at least one more year; the “Mathematics Education beyond 16: Pathways and Transitions” event is a conference of the IMA, CETL-MSOR and the IMA Journal Teaching Mathematics and its Applications to be held on 10-12 July 2017 at the University of Birmingham.

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Numeracy for Pleasure

The Coventry Maths & Stats Support team gives regular workshops on “Numerical Reasoning” for job-seeking students – and boy, how they struggle!

Now Richard Lissaman of MEI has taken the grunt out of re-learning fractions, decimals, percentages with the launch of his Sumaze! 2 - at least for those students who enjoy gaming on their mobile devices! The app is a free download on the Apple iOS and Android stores (free, thanks to some funding from the sigma Network). Please try it, and persuade others to try it too. And it you haven’t already done so, try its prequel Sumaze! and SPREAD THE WORD that problem-solving is cool.

Overheard: “I really like this! Sumaze! 2 has some great twists in strategy!” “Wonderful puzzles! Sumaze! 2 is the less advanced version of the first Sumaze!, but no less fun. If you're wanting to practise with numbers and operations, I'd start here. It pushes your understanding and flexibility with numbers and operations, plus requires some strategic planning. It's fun and rewarding.” “I am addicted to Sumaze! Thanks for telling me about it during happy hour on Friday @ddmeyer Simple math but great prob solving.”

Trevor Hawkes, 25 July 2016
Screenshots from Sumaze!
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Unsettling understandings of maths anxiety: A critical synthesis to inform policy and practice

“I was in a supermarket with one of my daughters, aged about 7 or 8….“Which is better value; this pack of 4 for £5, or that pack of 6 for £8?” My daughter paused, looked at the beer, and then ran off and hid…” - Anonymous Academic

This British Academy commissioned systematic review of research into maths anxiety is led by Dr Maria Pampaka and a team at the University of Manchester in conjunction with Edinburgh and Loughborough universities.

Anxiety is understood as both a psychological and a sociological, cultural phenomenon, widening the scope to closely related constructs (dispositions, efficacy, and identity) and engaging with literatures in the wider sense (academic, policy, practitioner and media outputs). The review is envisaged to cover pre, compulsory and post-compulsory education and life, parental and teachers’ anxiety and their influences. The aim is to inform policy, practice and develop future research agendas.

In order for the outputs to be accessible, useable and engaging to a wide audience, there will be various stakeholder events to inform the review. An introductory stakeholder event on 19th May 2016 had academics, teachers, university students and policy makers discuss maths anxiety and share personal experiences. ‘Best value beer’ was offered as a negative story highlighting concerns about anxious reactions to mathematics and how maths permeates everyday life – advocating the need for a wider scope review.

The next event on 25th November will focus on contemporary research evidence. Please contact for more information. Social media updates: @mathsisok. Project website:

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Special recognition: IMA Gold medals awarded to sigma Directors

The Institute of Mathematics & its Applications awards a biennial Gold Medal in recognition of outstanding contributions to mathematics and its applications. The 2016 Gold Medal was jointly awarded to the sigma Directors Professor Tony Croft and Professor Duncan Lawson for their "outstanding contribution to the teaching of mathematics". (Viewing the IMA website shows that they have joined a distinguished list of previous recipients including Prof Sir Hermann Bondi and Prof Ian Stewart.)

This award is clear proof of the value now attributed to mathematics and statistics support activity by the mathematics community, and sigma’s significant role in this.

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Successful promotion of a maths support centre – we can help!

Cheryl Voake-Jones

“I wish I knew about MASH earlier!” is one of the most frustrating comments I would hear at a mathematics and statistics help (MASH) drop-in. Plenty of students would pile in to the room, late in the semester; they would know and I would know that everything would have been much easier had they attended sooner. Either MASH wasn’t at the forefront of their go-to places for support, or they simply did not know we exist.

Cue a sigma-funded internship project into effective promotion of mathematics support centres, started in summer 2015. Getting people through the door is, after all, a key component of sustainability. Building on the success of the project, sigma funded an extension to enable us to provide resources to the whole Network. Some of our activities include:

  • creating a wide variety of engaging images, including photographs and mathematical imagery, in a variety of colours and styles, to be used on promotional materials
  • creating a guide of how to easily and effectively alter images in Microsoft Office to suit your own branding
  • running a successful social media campaign, and creating a guide to using social media:
  • compilation of a collection of mathematical quotations, jokes and puns (great for social media or to liven up your support centre)
  • developing a guide to creating images in MatLab
  • undertaking a number of new initiatives to enhance our visibility and activities across campus, such as a new series of maths talks.

We are also in the process of creating the following guides:

  • how to create promotional resources using Microsoft Word, PowerPoint and Publisher
  • ideas, tips, activities, and items for promoting a maths support centre; including a comprehensive list of suppliers and costs.

All files will be made available on the sigma website in due course. For more information or to access the files sooner, please contact Cheryl Voake-Jones.

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Statistics Pocket Guide

Alun Owen

Ellen Marshall

The new ‘The Statistics Tutor’s Pocket Book Guide to Statistics Resources’ is now available via statstutor. Designed to be printed as an A5 booklet, the guide was developed by Ellen Marshall (University of Sheffield), Alun Owen (University of Worcester) and Jonathan Gillard (University of Cardiff).

This aims to give tutors working in statistics support quick access to a comprehensive collection of statistics resources, that will enhance their tutoring role and their students’ learning. ‘Resources’ is interpreted broadly to include books, static as well as interactive digital materials, datasets, videos and tutor training material. Links are included to most resources including books which, where possible, are linked to websites which allow staff to access full texts for free.

This interactive guide could be used when setting up a statistics support service, in website construction or to quickly access material for specific topics whilst with students. As well as descriptions of each resource, summary tables help to assess which resource best suits the needs of students or tutors (see image) and are also available in an Excel file. We would like to expand the book to include more resources particularly relating to more statistical packages and specialist areas of statistics e.g. econometrics, engineering statistics or less common topics. We welcome suggestions for the guide. If you have any comments or suggestions for the resource, please email either Alun Owen or Ellen Marshall.

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Tutor Training Resources

Following on from the successful series of tutor training workshops held over the past two years, Tony Croft and Michael Grove have pulled together a set of resources to support the on-going training requirements of mathematics and statistics support provisions. These resources will support the training of tutors new to offering mathematics and statistics support as well as refresher training for more experienced staff. Click on the link to access the resources:
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Mechanics Support Material: student intern project

A sigma-supported summer student intern, working alongside the School of Maths & Stats E-Learning Unit and 'MathsAid' senior tutor at Newcastle University, developed bespoke mathematical support material for Biomechanics students over the summer.

The web-based material covers mechanics and biomechanics topics, with written examples accompanied by tests created in the Numbas e-assessment system, and interactive diagrams created with GeoGebra. The work has helped to support a new Exercise Biomedicine degree programme at Newcastle; Dr Brook Galna who leads the biomechanics module commented: "As a lecturer of biomechanics, I am often faced with the challenge of teaching mathematical concepts to students who do not have a strong maths background. What we need is an online resource that students can use to bring themselves up to scratch with any material they may have missed or been struggling with. The material and computer-based formative assessment provides instant feedback and direction to online resources to address their concerns as they arise, without having to wait for the help of a tutor or lecturer. This solution will help to augment my teaching and address my students' concerns about their maths skills."

All of the material produced for this project is available under a CC-BY licence and available to other support centres to use at

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The oversight of mathematics, statistics and numeracy support provision at university level - a guide for Pro-Vice-Chancellors

This is a freely available guide for university senior managers written by Tony Croft, Michael Grove & Duncan Lawson for the sigma Network. This publication provides a rationale for mathematics and statistics support provision, a description of various models of operation, and information on how to maintain good institutional oversight. A must for senior staff!

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Training days for new maths support centre tutors

Will your maths support centre be employing new tutors this year? For example, postgrad students or existing lecturers who are new to the practice of maths support in HE?

The sigma Network is offering several FREE one-day training events for new maths support tutors across the country this autumn. Several have already taken place but ones still to come are....

  • Monday 7th November 2016, at Lancaster University
  • Date to be decided, De Montfort University

This training is based on a well-established package developed by sigma and successfully delivered many times in recent years.

Full details of these (and any additional) training days will be posted on our website and announced via the Jiscmail mailing list as soon as the details are known.

Meanwhile, if you are interested in training for your new tutors and would like to host an event and open it up to other maths support centre staff, please let us know:

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Maths Support through embedded classes – 16th November 2016, London South Bank University

Mohamed Mehbali

The Skills for Learning team at London South Bank University are delighted to host a free sigma Network event – Maths Support through Embedded Classes – on Wednesday 16th November 2016, starting at 12.30. If you are involved in the provision of mathematics and/or statistics support in Higher Education, this event will give you the opportunity to share your experience with colleagues from other HE institutions. The event will mainly focus on support delivered through embedded classes. The aim is to share best practice, to enable participants to network and to develop action plans for the provision of maths support in your institution, possibly through an embedded approach.

Further information about the day, together with how to register, will be available at Informal enquiries should be directed to Mohamed Mehbali, Learning Development Adviser for Maths, LSBU, For those working towards HEA Fellowship, attendance at and engagement with this event, and reflection on its implication for practice, could help to provide evidence towards elements of the UK Professional Standards Framework: A1, A2, A4, A5, K2, K3, V2, V3.

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Statistics Support: Ideas, Resources and Advice - 1st July 2016

Paul Wilson

On 1st July, the South East sigma hub organised a one day workshop on Statistics Support: Ideas, Resources and Advice. The event was hosted by one of the newer sigma Centres, Royal Holloway, University of London. After a brief introduction from myself and Kinga Zaczek, Royal Holloway, there were talks from: Alun Owen, University of Worcester - Statistics support: Reflecting on the past work of sigma and the future of the new sigma Statistics Special Interest Group; Monica-Cristiana Hess, Brunel, University of London - Teaching Statistics: A Perspective on Two Different Approaches; Cheryl Voake-Jones, University of Bath - Integrating statistics teaching and support into a wide variety of departments; Paul Wilson University of Wolverhampton - Statistics first – SPSS later.

The meeting was well attended with 21 delegates from the following universities and organisations: Brunel, University of London; University of Bath; Coventry University; De Montfort University; University of East London; University of Greenwich; London Metropolitan University; London South Bank University; Loughborough University; Oxford Brookes University; University of Roehampton; Royal Holloway, University of London; Royal Veterinary College; University of Sheffield; sigma Network; University of Worcester. The presentation slides have been made available to delegates.

Paul Wilson's presentation at the event
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Enhancing maths and statistics support provision – 5th September 2016

The Maths Learning Centre (MLC) at De Montfort University hosted a one-day staff development event for new and experienced mathematics and statistics support tutors on Monday 5th September 2016. Though the driver behind the event was to up-skill our MLC tutors, sigma Network members were invited to share in the day because of the relevance of the themes to the wider maths support community.

The course focused on some perennial topics faced by maths support staff, and included presentations from established and experienced members of the sigma Network: a) Supporting students with their statistics projects (including choice of hypotheses tests, using SPSS), b) Helping to prepare students for numerical reasoning tests, c) The particular support needs of nursing students (drug dose calculations, etc).

The event was attended by 13 delegates from 5 different institutions, who were engaged and kept very busy throughout. One piece of feedback was: ‘I wish I’d had this 6 years ago (when my career in maths support began) I would have been more confident about tacking the learning needed for stats support provision’.

All heads down for Ellen’s SPSS session
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Tutor Training day at King’s College London – 11 October 2016

David Bowers - Chair, sigma Network

A training day for new maths support tutors was held on 11th October 2016 at King’s College London. The event was co-delivered by David Bowers (sigma Network) and Mateja Presern (University of Portsmouth) based on the tried-and-tested sigma publication “Tutoring in a mathematics support centre”.

Fifteen delegates took part – mainly but not exclusively PhD students who are taking on maths and statistics support roles in the coming year. They represented seven institutions: King’s College London, University of Portsmouth, University of Hertfordshire, University of Greenwich, Anglia Ruskin University, Birkbeck College, and the North West Regional College Derry.

The training covered: the growing need for maths support, how maths support differs from traditional lecturing, dos and don’ts for working in a maths support centre, the particular case of statistics support, difficult situations and how to deal with them, and resources available for mathematics and statistics support. A particularly “enjoyable” part of the day was a role-play activity, when participants could take the role of a student, a tutor or an observer in a problem-solving scenario. Feedback at the end of the day was positive. “It emphasised the importance of the teaching/learning approaches you must take in order to help somebody grasp something they did not previously understand.” “The event has given me lots to think about regarding the development and co-ordination of the maths centre.”

We were grateful for the hospitality of the Study Skills team at King’s, who generously hosted the event on behalf of the sigma Network.

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The 10th Annual Workshop of the Irish Mathematics Learning Support Network (IMLSN) Workshop – 27 May 2016

Kirsten Pfeiffer, National University Ireland, Galway

This event took place on Friday 27 May at NUI Galway in Ireland and was attended by 47 delegates from 16 institutions. The conference theme was ‘The key role of tutors of mathematics and statistics in Post-Secondary Education’.

Michael Grove (University of Birmingham) spoke in the first keynote talk ‘The Strongest Link? Supporting the Teaching Assistant, Demonstrator, Marker, Advisor, Tutor, …’ about the development of tutor training in mathematics support in the UK. The second keynote talk ‘Staff development in Mathematics Learning Support in Ireland: where are we now and where to next?’ was given by Ciarán O'Sullivan (Institute of Technology Tallaght, Dublin). He connected the previous keynote talk to the Irish situation and made suggestions on how tutors’ professional teaching development can be supported.

The six other talks included:

  • ‘Challenges for tertiary level mathematics tutors with no formal education training: The experience of two practitioners’ by Niall McInerney and Kevin Brosnan,
  • “Make it (Mathematics) stick!” by Ted Hurley,
  • ‘An analysis of pedagogy of mathematics support tutors’ by Richard Walsh,
  • ‘Tutoring in a Maths Support Centre as an enrichment experience for tutoring large groups’ by Cesar Scrotchi,
  • ‘Audit of mathematics learning support in Ireland in 2015 – the key findings’ by Maura Clancy,
  • ‘Online e-assessment tool ‘Numbas’ as a tutorial tool’ by Julie Crowley.

The workshop provided delegates with an opportunity to share ideas and experiences in supporting tutors engaged in higher education mathematics and statistics support, and to further consolidate links between academics and support staff.

Abstracts of the talks and presentation are available at the conference website.

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Maths Sparks: Undergraduate-led workshops for secondary students

In April 2016 the second University College Dublin (UCD) ‘Maths Sparks’ programme concluded with a ceremony celebrating both university and secondary students’ mathematical experiences. The Maths Sparks programme is based on introducing secondary pupils to mathematical topics external to their school syllabus and is facilitated by undergraduate students. With an aim of developing pupils’ skills in mathematical thinking, undergraduate students work in collaborative teams of two or three to design and deliver workshops on their chosen mathematical topics. Prior to presentation of the series, the design of content is guided by lecturers in the School of Mathematics and Statistics and is collaboratively peer-reviewed among students.

In December 2015, twenty one students from the UCD School of Mathematics and Statistics volunteered to participate in the programme and, over three weeks at the beginning of semester 2 of term, designed and trialled their workshops. Twelve schools were invited to attend the six-week programme held in the university and seventy pupils chose to take part. Designated disadvantaged schools (DEIS – Delivering Equality of Opporunity in Schools) were specifically targeted due to the average low numbers of students in DEIS schools choosing to study higher-level mathematics as part of their secondary education.

Workshops were presented on a range of topics from Keeler’s Theorem to Graph Theory, with a number of these complemented by talks from lecturers within the department. The closing ceremony celebrated pupils’ interest in continuing to study mathematics and the development of undergraduate students’ skills in communicating their mathematical knowledge. For information on incorporating Maths Sparks in your institution’s outreach activities, please contact Dr Aoibhinn Ní Shúilleabháin or Dr Anthony Cronin, UCD School of Mathematics and Statistics.

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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.

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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 the sigma network Chair. It is our intention to compile a bibliography which will be available from the sigma Network and mathcentre websites.


No reports were submitted for this issue.

Journal and Conference Publications

No publications were submitted for this issue.

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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
the sigma Network Chair

The deadline for contributions for the next edition (Spring 2017) is 31st January 2017.

For more information, visit
or contact

#mathssupport, #statssupport

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The sigma Network gratefully acknowledges the funding it received from HEFCE. hefce logo