Day 14 – Part II …and Met&Mat

Meanwhile, Helen and Rob navigated their way to Met&Mat through the rain. Having figured out the building layout and located the office, we met with Dr Alessandro Mottura. He had a wide range of exciting (and potentially challenging) tasks for us to complete. 

The first of these involved creating a chemical element lookup table where students are given a random element and asked to input various properties. Rob has started some initial work on this.

The next task is to create randomized graphs for the Young’s Modulus, where the student is asked to read values off the graph or calculate different quantities using the gradient.

The final task is to find a way for students to identify planes in a simple cubic lattice from a given randomized diagram. The challenge here is to find a nice way to make MapleTA generate the images required in the question.

These may give us an opportunity to explore MathApps in the near future, by means of creating interactive simulations!



Day 14 – Part I Meeting with the Maths Department…

Friday morning was a busy day for us since we had meetings with Maths and Metallurgy and Materials. 

Edna and Jordan together with Jon and Dr Nicola Wilkin met with Dr Dirk Hermans, from the Maths Department. After presenting the work  accomplished so far on the Maths questions, we discussed the improvements to both the student and instructor experience as well as the learning environment using Maple TA. Dr Hermans seemed pleased with all the possibilities that can be explored through both adaptive questions and assignments. 

 The meeting itself proved to be very useful to us as it provided us with an insight on the pedagogical side of the writing process. For instance, we have been dealing with writing feedback for matrices questions for a while but it had not crossed our minds that in order to avoid computational mistakes, it would be beneficial to minimize division as much as possible. We were also alerted to the need of looking for ways to create “nice” answers. One example of this would be to use upper/lower triangular matrices so that one can pick the properties in order to generate a nice matrix.

 The meeting left us with many different things to think about and some new options to explore. These include exploring the gradebook features and providing conditional feedback, all key elements in aiding at the learning experience. 


Day 12 and 13 – Meeting with Mechanical Engineering

Hello, everyone!

The end of the week saw our workload increase as we started meeting with other departments, which means we now have a wide range of exciting new projects to work on using Maple TA.

Wednesday morning started with a short training session from Jon on how to use MathApps. These are extremely useful tools for creating interactive resources that enable students to explore different mathematical and scientific topics. We have all been challenged to have a go at writing an example that can be adapted later on. 

Wednesday also saw our first visit to another department. Helen and Michael C. hiked over to Mechanical Engineering to meet with Dr Aziza Mahomed.  

Helen getting ready for the first meeting

Prior to our internship, some of the Theoretical Physics PhD students had written up some questions for Mech Eng class tests, which we went through. We agreed to optimize these and, in addition, adapt one of the tests to provide an example including randomization and feedback. This will give them an example of where some of the other features of MapleTA can be incorporated into class tests if desired.

The rest of the day and Thursday involved further writing and testing of Maths and Quantum Mechanics questions, as well as starting work for Mech Eng. In addition, Rob and Jordan were working on expanding the repository so that it meets all of our requirements. The repository is essentially a bank of grading code that can be used in all types of question. This has proved incredibly useful as it provides consistent marking and speeds up the question writing process.   

More to follow!

~Edna and Helen

Day 11 – Presentations

We arrived in the morning in time for our first juggling lesson since our tame Juggling Master Greg returned.  We are looking forward to our first theoretical juggling lesson later this week.


After that, we started preparing presentations to show what we had achieved over the first two weeks.  After battling the projector again we finally managed to get it started


We also found out that on Friday afternoon, some of us (Me and Jordan, along with Jon) will be having a conference call directly with one of the developers of MapleTA in order to report the numerous problems we have encountered, and to suggest improvements.


Day 10 – A whole new week

A new week and new questionsIMG_0492. Everyone left behind last week’s Y2 maths questions  and started on a new list of questions (yay!). This list of questions comprised of more maths, Quantum Mechanics 2 and the ever mysteriously named Quantum Mechanics 2.5.

The maths questions were designed for use in class tests so formatting was strict. But the QM ones were for self teaching rather than test environment so they didn’t need to be as robust. Many also didn’t require much randomisation and some were even multiple choice so less work for us.

Jon started a list on the blackboard of problems to report back to maple which quickly got filled with bugs we had found and ideas we had had for improvement.

Jon with the blackboard
Jon with the blackboard
Group meeting with team yellow
Group meeting with team yellow

We encountered problems with using inequalities signs in the answer box as they were getting interpreted as HTML tags. The pressure rose due to the impending doom of tomorrow presentation where we will show Jon and Nicola what we have been up to for the last week.

theory ghost
Another visit from theory ghost Mortimer

Team green member Ben was not back yet but juggling master Greg was and we were all excited for  the lesson that had already been planed for tomorrow.




We are a team of 12 undergraduate students in the College of Engineering and Physical Sciences at the University of Birmingham. We are working with Maple TA, an automatic marking system for mathematics, to create a bank of questions to aid the student learning experience. We shall use this blog to record our daily progress throughout the summer.

Day 9 – Even More Destructive Testing

Another round of destructive testing began today after we implemented the fixes to our questions in the new versions, and (as is typical of coding) it seemed that we found even more issues with the questions than the previous versions, prompting a mad panic to fix the new bugs from all the teams.

Issues found included problems with using the equation editor as in some cases correct answers were not accepted using this mode. This, and a few other problems, were discussed between the teams in order to get an idea for what needed to be given to the team at Maplesoft for feedback.

Jordan and Rob were hard at work on a proof of concept Maple TA question for the School of Chemistry.
Jordan and Rob were hard at work on a proof of concept Maple TA question for the School of Chemistry.

After finding and trying to fix some of the issues on our end, we also looked over the new set of questions we needed to write for the School of Mathematics as well as further questions for Physics – mainly assignments for Quantum Mechanics modules.

George with our new colleague Mortimer.
George with our new colleague Mortimer.

Most importantly, a consensus was finally reached on the name of the infamous Theory Ghost – an incredibly democratic poll decreed that the ghost was to be called (drum roll please)… Mortimer.

Next week we will be preparing and giving a presentation to our supervisors on the progress we have made so far and we shall also have tutorial from Jon on using Maths Apps.

Also, Friday was our last day in absence of juggling master Greg – whose return we awaited in eager anticipation.


Day 8.00 – Day of the theory ghost

The aftermath of the destructive testing gave us many things to work on and a thorough rework of our questions began: most improvements were on randomization and appearance with a few more serious ones such as questions accepting answers they should not have. The main issues were fixed in the morning but they brought with them numerous small issues that took a lot longer to resolve.

The morning also brought with it  an appearance by the theory ghost who made his first visit to the blackboard at the head of the room. The ghost had previously only haunted the door at the back of the room which it opened periodically in complete disregard of Newton’s laws of motion, until the door was jammed shut by a particularly hefty text book.

Getting help from Jon
Getting help from Jon

After lunch we were still attempting to fix the cosmetic issues that had been generated by the fixes in the morning. Particularly troublesome were the extra decimal places that had appeared everywhere. After several hours I resorted to asking Jon and ended up using 3.00 new variables to change sin(9.00x) to sin(9x). Rob fixed a long standing issue with the grading of matrices and together with Jordan successfully created the repository code so that the grading code for all of the problems we have written could be stored in one file, this will be a great help for future problems. Other small issues persisted but eventual the questions were in ready for the 2nd round of destructive testing.

Nearing the end of the day Austin came in and showed us a video of Noel Edmunds discussing the negative effects of ‘electromagnetic smog’. We also had a vote to name the theory ghost, the candidates are: Boo, Mortimer, Agnes, Quentin, Fredrik, Jasper, and Boris. The result will be revealed in a later blog.

Noel Edmunds
Noel Edmunds

So having found a name for the new member of our team and having had our opinions of Noel Edmunds decreased significantly, we readied ourselves for a new round of destructive testing the following day.

-Mike C

Day 7 – Blood, Sweat and Mainly Tears

Wednesday saw the beginning, the middle, and the end of the first round of destructive testing. There were few survivors.

We began the morning full of hope that the question we had laboured over for days would amaze the other teams – “Wow”, they would say, “the Pink team’s questions are indestructible”, while we sat as halos slowing formed over our heads. By the afternoon all thoughts of divinity had evaporated and we were thrust down to earth while error after error appeared.

From the morning to the afternoon
From the morning to the afternoon

It wasn’t all bad though; we also got to see the same thing happen to the other teams.

By the time our meeting with Jon and Nicola came, we were actually beginning to pick ourselves up and write fixes for the issues. In fact we were so advanced with this they decided we would be able to handle another 60 questions. These ranged from the curiously named “Quantum Mechanics 2.5” to questions the Mathematics Department termed “Category One”. Hopefully it won’t be too Bohr-ing – otherwise we may have to Newton-y (mutiny.. geddit?).

On a serious note, it will be interesting to explore other topics and even other departments. We all look forward to spreading the gospel of Maple TA.


Day 6 – Internal Testing!

Tuesday morning saw Team Green a.k.a. The Knife Jugglers testing and optimising the feedback of our colleague Ben, who unfortunately will not join us this week. However, last week he did manage to write three questions on the divergence of vectors: Div1, Div2 and Div3.

Numbers work in mysterious ways.
Numbers work in mysterious ways.

Tuesday morning was not the best time for our team. We kept mixing up the three questions Ben had sent us because they had one number ordering in our xml file, another ordering in the zips Mike sent us, and yet another ordering after we imported them in Maple TA. So even though we might be able to juggle (imaginary) knives, we certainly cannot juggle small numbers. Such is life.

The most awesome door you'll ever see today.
The most awesome door you’ll ever see today.

On the brighter side of things, our pictures have arrived! The door to our office is now adorned with the marvelous photos of us, Nicola, Jon and the Theoretical Physics postgrads. Kudos to Helen for making us look so beautiful!

The internal testing from yesterday continued (progress!) and by the end of the day all teams were confident that we would be able to start external (a.k.a. destructive) testing very soon. We also got our new Maple TA Instructor accounts and this will make sharing questions among us really easy.

This is us before destructive testing.    This will be us before destructive testing.
This is us before destructive testing.                                  This will be us after destructive testing.

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post because Wednesday is meeting day and we will get to say how awesome we are and how much more awesome we can get!

Dan, over and out.