How to Engage 14 Year-Old Students with Mathematics

  • Published May 18, 2018
  • By Dave Catlin

Using Roamer to Explore Islamic Art

Turtle type Robots have always connected to mathematics education; this event with learners from the East London Science School showed why. Computer science teacher Vivita Sequeira invited Roamer to London’s East End to play with over eighty 14-year old students.  Although invented in London this is the story of Roamer’s day trip to another planet.

I moved to South London in the early eighties and perhaps once every couple of years I’d find myself in London’s East End.  The city of London clustered around the Tower of London, a Norman fortress on the river Thames built by William the Conqueror between 1066 and 1078.  Over the years London extended beyond the city westward to Westminster Abbey, the Houses of Parliament, and Lambeth Palace – the London home of the Archbishop of Canterbury.  Further west, north and south lay the farmlands of the landed gentry now consumed by urban sprawl.  Where I live in South London lay the estates of the Duke of Devonshire, who bore one famous scientist son – the eccentric Henry Cavendish.

The East End has a different story.  In Roman times major roads like Watling Street stretched north and south.  The East End became the industrial heart of the capital with tanneries, breweries, markets and above all London Docks connecting the country with the rest of the world.  Interwoven with the factories and markets – the cramped homes of its workers filled with the Dickensian poverty of the working class masses.  Jack the Ripper haunted these streets.  It’s also where the Protestant Huguenots flocked following the Bartholomew’s Day massacre in Catholic France.  New immigrants keep up this tradition making London’s East End a mix of Cockney tradition blended with flavours from the rest of the world.  Heavily bombed in the Second World War the East End has seen extensive redevelopment take place.  Yet its essential character remains undisturbed.  Going there you’ll find the intermixing of working-class homes and industry in a way I’ve never seen anywhere else.  Major thoroughfares carve their way through the landscape connecting the capital to the North and the coast.  For Londoners from the rest of the city, it’s like a different planet.

Exploring Islamic Art

Because it’s Ramadan we designed the task as an introduction to Islamic art.  Since the students had never seen Roamer, we organised the task into stages which started with switching the robot on gradually gave them skills to finish with an open-ended creative challenge.  We introduced the idea of mathematical patterns.  Finding a pattern meant you could write a short piece of code and repeat it (loop).  Learners had to think about the patterns in shape and read and understand code. We then set them an open challenge where they brought together what they’d learnt and used it in a creative way.  It was a fast and intense learning experience that pushed them and kept the engrossed and focussed.


Thank you Kate and Dave for the wonderful workshop. I was particularly impressed by students’ progression in 1 hour; from seeing the Roamer Robots for the first time to programming loops (repeats) for the robots, which is a  real credit to you both.  I had a student saying he wanted one in his room as his pet.  Thank you for a fun and educative session.

Vivita Sequeiira

Computer Science Teacher

Student Comments

We liked it a lot because we understood how to do it.

It was great to make it draw a star.

It was easy to understand.

We liked it was practical coding and you could see immediately what you  coded. It was not like coding on the computer which is boring.

Before I moved to London I lived 15 years in Bradford, a strongly Muslim community.  I’ve also travelled in over a dozen Islamic countries including places on today’s no-go lists like Iran and Afghanistan.  So I have seen much Muslim art in Istanbul’s’s Hagia Sophia or the Cairo Art Museums.  But Muslim art spills out into the design of buildings and other parts of everyday life.  As I was finishing this blog I came across the work of Zarah Hussain an East End artist.  Zarah, “…works at the intersection of science and spirituality, combining contemporary digital art with rigorous training in traditional hand-drawn Islamic geometry.”  Her work is stunning.  It’s worth a few moments to take a look.

Zarah Hussain

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