Focus on – December festivities
Ideas for lessons in December
 Will there be a White Christmas this year?
In this lesson, students take historical weather data (the percent of likelihood that there will be snow) for 50 cities across the continental United States. Students plot the locations and percents on a map and use the data to create a colour contour map showing the approximate likelihood of snow cover across the United States on Christmas Day.
 How far does Santa travel?
Track Santa with the North American Aerospace Defense Command. You will need the circumference of the Earth and a travel distance calculator.
 How far is it to the North Pole?
Visit the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration site to find out how to calculate how far you are from the North Pole. You can calculate the distance from your location to the North Pole using Great Circle Mapper. ‘A great circle is a circle on a sphere's surface whose plane is passing exactly through the center of the sphere. An arc on a great circle represents the shortest distance between two points on a sphere. Because a great line follows the curvature of the Earth, it forms a curved line rather than a straight one.’ Pilot’s Web.
 What temperature is it at the North Pole?
Start by finding out the weather at the North Pole and then looking at the forecast for the North Pole. Suddenly those negative numbers have a practical application!
 What would be the cost of sending your true love the ‘Twelve Days of Christmas’ gifts?
In 2007, the cost in dollars was $78 100, what would be the cost in pounds sterling in 2010? You can find a spreadsheet on Exploring Discrete Mathematics in the Classroom.
 Did you know that there is a relationship between Pascal’s triangle and the Twelve Days of Christmas?
Find out more at Exploring Discrete Mathematics in the Classroom.
 Explore time differences through asking students to think about time zones as different countries celebrate the New Year
timeanddate.com has a countdown to New Year and also a countdown for other time zones. They also have a chart showing the current times all over the world, while worldtimezone.com has a map showing all the time zones.
 Create a Mathematical Birthday Calendar for 2011
Isaac Newton’s birthday is 4 January. Thomas Fincke’s is on 6 January (Dr Fincke introduced the tangent and secant trigonometric functions). You will find this page from the University of St Andrews History of Mathematics site very useful!
Make a New Year’s resolution to knit a ‘Counting Pane’ blanket for your college!
Woolly Primes
After seeing a blanket called ‘Counting Pane’ designed by Woolly Thoughts, at a knitting workshop, Yvonne Scott, a mathematics AST and a colleague (Liz Smith) from Ranelagh School in Bracknell were inspired to knit a version of their own for students to use as a lesson resource. They realised that this would be a large project and so Yvonne suggested that perhaps they could use the idea to help students and parents to realise that mathematics could be creative and produce something beautiful to look at, as well as representing the patterns involved. It was from this that the Ranelagh ‘Maths Community Project’ was born. Parents, students and staff were invited and the group has had about 1214 members including some neighbours and friends of parents and staff. The project inspired several members of the mathematics department to learn to knit so that they could contribute, including Ben Davey, the NQT.
They first met in September 2009 to discuss what they would want the blanket to look like. They wanted it to be different from the ‘Counting Pane’ but at the same time, wanted to be able to represent the numbers 1 to 100 and the number of factors each number had. The design process took some time – for example, they could not have a colour representing each number as this would have caused problems with the number of colours of yarn that they would have to use. The simplest solution was to have the number of colours in each square to represent the number of factors that number had. By doing this they could then have prime numbers with only two colours and 1 with only one colour. The next problem they had to overcome was the number of people knitting squares, as this would give problems with tension and size. This was overcome using a technique of knitting on the diagonal and to the size of a template so that all the squares were the same size (well, they were a bit different in the end but not too much!!). The colours used in the blanket were inspired by their school uniform. They were fortunate in getting some sponsorship to cover the cost of the yarn.
Knitting actually began in February this year and the squares were completed in September. Since then, Yvonne, with the help of three other members of the group, has been joining the squares together. The blanket is now completed but needs to be mounted and put on a wall in the mathematics department so that it can be used as a teaching resource. They are hoping that this will help students to understand and become interested in factors and primes. As a resource they might ask questions like:
 which numbers have the largest number of factors? Can you explain why?
 what patterns can you see?
 which numbers are prime numbers?
 is there a pattern to help to continue predicting primes?
