University of Oxford Maths and Science Teachers’ Conference presentations

Mathematical Institute, Oxford
Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Thank you for recently attending the University of Oxford Maths and Science Teachers’ Conference. We were very pleased to see so many attend and we hope you found the day useful and enjoyable. A summary of the workshops from the conference is below and presentations from the day are available to download.



“Some Practical Experiments Illustrating Topics In Earth Sciences”

By its very nature Earth Sciences is perceived as an outdoorsy subject. With an increasingly urbanized population illustrating some of the more physical aspects of geology can either be expensive or impractical, reducing teaching in the classroom to theory only.

In this session we demonstrate some simple hands-on activities for the teaching-lab on a variety of geological topics. These practicals are designed to get students thinking about the world around them, in ways they may not have considered before. The experiments are easy to set up using readily available materials. These experiments can be used to teach themes in the physical geography course and where applicable geology course, if taught or to simply introduce the subject of Earth Sciences.


MATHEMATICS – Dr Rebecca Cotton-Barratt

“Taking Maths Further”

Studying maths at university is quite different to GCSE and A-level maths, and this session highlights bridging and extension material for students considering a maths or other numerate degree. Developing problem solving skills is a vital skill for students and we’ll discuss ways to enrich the A-level curriculum. Taking A-level Further Maths is also a key step for many future mathematicians, and we will be providing advice and guidance on A-level course choice.

The session will end with some information on the application process for Mathematics at Oxford, including personal statements, teacher references, interviews, and the pre-interview test (MAT).

MATERIALS SCIENCE – Professor Susannah Speller

“Designing Materials”

In our daily lives we encounter an extraordinary range of materials, from the structural materials used in buildings to the high-tech electronic materials used to make the touch screens in our mobile devices.  All of these are carefully selected and engineered to have the properties required for a particular application, and many have very complex internal structures on the micro- and nano- scale.   In this seminar, we will explore the essence of Materials Science – how the microscopic nature of the material influences macroscopic properties – using two very different case studies:  violins and superconducting magnets.

In the case of violins, wood has been almost exclusively used for high quality instruments for many centuries.  Is this just tradition, or are there good reasons why newer high-tech materials are less suitable?  Could we engineer a “better” synthetic material?  Superconductivity, on the other hand, is found in all sorts of different kinds of material – from metals and alloys to complex ceramic oxides.  What influences our choice of material for technological applications such as magnets, and how do we optimise its performance?   



 “Spiders: Nature’s Engineers”

Spiders are often hated, but are incredibly interesting. There are over 40 000 species of spider that have colonised most natural habitats, with the exception of Antarctica. This success can be attributed, in part, to a very special trait – the ability to spin silk. Spiders therefore provide a useful model system for a range of biological topics, from protein structure, evolution & adaptations, ecology, and animal behaviour. They can also link between separate scientific topics – they are, after all, one of nature’s expert material and structural engineers.

In this seminar, I will give an overview of spiders as a taxon, covering the wide aspects of their biology that integrate well with the biology teaching in school, or science activities outside of the curriculum. I will also explore how these topics might integrate into a tutorial at Oxford. The seminar will end with an overview of the Biological Sciences course at Oxford, including information on admissions.

BIOCHEMISTRY – Dr Kathryn Scott

“Extracting DNA From Cheek Cells: A Classroom Experiment For Year 7 Upwards”

DNA extraction provides an excellent hands-on introduction to DNA and there are many simple and effective protocols available online for extraction of DNA from fruit samples. Students are often more engaged, however, if they can extract their own DNA.  The buccal cells lining the interior of the mouth can be easily and painlessly harvested and provide sufficient material for the extraction of visible quantities of high quality DNA. The success of the DNA extraction depends critically on the cell-harvesting and is also influenced by choice of reagents for cell lysis and DNA precipitation. Participants will purify DNA from their own buccal cells in less than 30 minutes using an optimised protocol that does not include centrifugation steps. The protocol uses isotonic mouthwash, lysis buffer (10 mM TrisHCl, 1mM EDTA, 1% SDS, pH 8), digestion with Proteinase K at 50 oC and precipitation with Sodium Chloride and Absolute Ethanol or Isopropanol. We will discuss how various reagents can be substituted with those freely available in the supermarket and the effect that this has on DNA yield and quality. Risk assessments, lesson plans and a PowerPoint presentation accompanying the experiment will all be available to participants.


This workshop will examine the purpose and nature of Biomedical Sciences tutorials, using a worked example from the first year ‘Body’ theme. The role of the interview in appraising suitability for the tutorial mode of teaching will also be considered.

STATISTICS – Mareli Grady

In 1993, only 3% of the world’s data was available digitally. By 2007, advances in technology and hugely increased use of the internet raised that number to 94%. In 2012 it was estimated that the global data supply reached 2.8 trillion GB, of which less than 0.5% was used for analysis.

Big data has created opportunities and challenges for businesses in equal measure. The modern world needs more professionals who are able to analyse, understand and communicate complicated data sets, and yet the UK is lagging behind in the students studying Statistics, a key skill to meet this need.

In this workshop we will look at some ideas for making Statistics interesting in the classroom, and how to link ideas from the A-level syllabus to concepts learnt at undergraduate level.

We will finish by having a quick look at the range of careers open to students who have studied degrees with a Statistics component.

ENGINEERING – Gabrielle Bouchard

 “Engineering Explained”

Engineering is an exciting, fulfilling, and challenging career path. Since engineering is not a subject typically taught in schools, it can leave even the most seasoned physics teacher hesitant to recommend it as an option for study at university. Engineering Explained will focus on what a university educated engineer looks like and dispel some common myths about engineering. By the end of this session you will feel confident identifying students who will thrive on a university engineering course and explaining the benefits of pursing an engineering degree. The session will end with information about applying to Engineering Science at Oxford.



“Coding For Teachers And Students, At All Levels And Experience, And Across The Curriculum”

Computer Science is an excellent degree choice for mathematically-inclined students, combining deep theoretical interest with huge practical value, and the prospect of wonderfully varied careers (from self-employment, technical services, administration and commerce, to education, industry and almost any area of research).

This session will demonstrate *free software and teaching materials, developed under a major project co-funded by the Department for Education*.  These enable the teaching and learning of programming (and computer science concepts) in creative ways that are easily accessible for both non-specialist teachers and students, whether in lessons, computer clubs, or self-teaching.  The system has worked well with 9-year-olds and is simple enough to be mastered quickly by a non-technical teacher, but also provides the means to enable keen students to experience the thrill of deep intellectual understanding, and the delight of software creation – from simple patterns to artificial intelligence.  Thanks to the recent project, several programming languages can be used (BASIC, Java, Pascal, Python), and a wealth of example programs are available, to integrate coding and enrich lessons across the curriculum, especially in Biology, Chemistry, Maths, Physics, and the social sciences.

PHYSICS – Dr Catherine Hayer

“Developing Problem Solving Skills With Isaac Physics”

Problem solving skills are a key attribute of a budding physicist and are looked for in Oxford Physics applicants. Isaac Physics aims to improve the problem solving skills of Physics A-level students. It can also help you save time marking! Find out how at this CPD session. Isaac Physics is a new free online tool featuring a mixture of physics skills practice and problem-solving questions. With the in-built teacher tools you can create groups of students and create problem sets to assign to them, with our system checking their answers and providing you with their marks. In this short CPD session we’ll demonstrate what’s available on, how to use the teacher tools, and talk about our problem-solving philosophy.

CHEMISTRY - Professor Claire Vallance, Professor Kylie Vincent and Minh Tran

“Chem Chats” - Professor Kylie Vincent

From Chemical Sensing to Catalysis and something in between.  An opportunity to refresh your knowledge of current research in Chemistry and discuss how this can be linked to classroom teaching to inspire your budding scientists.

"Trapping Light for Miniaturised Chemical Sensing" – Professor Claire Vallance

Many chemical sensors detect a molecule of interest through an interaction of the molecule with light.  In most cases, the light passes once through the sample and only has one chance to interact with the sample molecules.  We are working on sensors employing structures known as optical cavities, which trap light within the sensor so that it can interact with the sample many times.  This greatly enhances the detection sensitivity to the point where we can now detect quantities of sample as small as a few hundred molecules.

"Making Nature's Chemicals in the Lab - the ongoing challenge" - Minh Tran

 This talk will look at one of the most explored branches of Organic Chemistry - the making of natural compounds in the lab. Besides the obvious benefits of a sustainable supply of these compounds for medicinal testing and/or treatments, the need to make natural chemicals is the vital driving force for novel methods to make chemical bonds in an efficient and precise manner. 

2017 Maths and Science Teachers' Conference

Details of the 2017 Maths and Science Teachers' Conference will be available in early 2017. To receive notification of upcoming teachers' events please sign up to our teachers e-newsletter.   

If you have any further enquiries about the Maths and Science Teachers’ Conference, please email, or telephone 01865 270554.