You know how teenagers seem to know absolutely everything?  That’s how I feel today!  I just submitted my iCMA43 (MST124’s quiz for the calculus modules) and got full marks.  I’m absolutely insufferable right now.

There was a tutorial last night for calculus, which I was late for.  (My phone is … Well, it’s hard to describe without swearing.  But I’m blaming the phone because the alternative is to accept responsibility for my own choices, and forget that.)  The tutorial really built my confidence.  I made all the same arithmetic and algebraic errors I always do (so no chance of doing well at the exam), but my understanding was where it needed to be the whole way through.

I still have one or two days worth of calculus to get through, and I need to finish up the calculus parts of TMA03, but I can get back to a normal study schedule.  (I put TM129 to the side to concentrate on calculus.)  So sometime next week I’ll start handling two modules simultaneously again.  Since I only have the Linux block to do there, and I already run dozens of headless Linux virtuals (and one physical Raspbian box), I should be able to complete TM129 long before revision for MST124 starts in May.

My TMA02 results are overdue by a day, now, so I’m doing my best not to be impatient about it.  I get that my tutor is busy, and I’ve been in that situation.  On the other hand, it’s entirely possible that there really was a problem with my submission and there’s nothing to mark.  I’ll probably edit this entry once it’s back.  I’ve spotted a few unimportant mistakes in it, so it probably won’t be as good a result as my last one, but I’m not expecting it to be too much worse.

I almost admitted defeat.

Let me amend that.  I admitted defeat.  Like, forty or fifty times.  On one activity.  (Activity 17, combining differentiation rules, if anybody cares.)  But I also went back for more the same number of times.

I finally conquered it confidently and moved past it, with some help from Sal Khan.  But I wasn’t the only one that was nearly completely derailed by that single activity.  Every few hours, somebody in the Facebook group will say that they’re really struggling with Unit 7, or just about to give up on maths completely, or feel like they understood maths until one activity made them feel like an utter moron.  Practically without fail, they’re all staring at activity 17 in panic.

When I go from understanding everything well (or well enough) to understanding nothing, I typically assume that I’ve skipped a major step without realising it.  But when nearly everybody has the same experiences, I feel more comfortable thinking that it isn’t just me.  There was either a foundational piece left out, or simply too steep a learning curve.

It highlights the importance of not relying solely on one source for information.  The Open University often seems fanatical in its defence of its material always being individually sufficient and superior to all other sources.  (This is only my opinion from anecdotal observation.)  For example, any suggestion in the official MST-124 forums to check out an external resource on a topic is swiftly refuted by tutors on the course, and original OU materials are reiterated.  Without fail.

In my experience, no one source has all the right answers, and no one way of learning is right for everybody.  When doing assignments, it’s important to prepare them based on the information you’re instructed to peruse.  But for understanding, make sure you find whatever resource you can find that helps you understand.  If there’s something fundamentally different from what’s in the OU materials, it’s an excellent opportunity to open a dialogue with the tutor and gain a considerably deeper understand of the nuances involved in the reasons for the difference.

It took me five. days. to get past activity 17 using OU materials.  It took me about two hours on Khan Academy.  Find what works for you.  Self-reflection on how I learn is one of the most valuable skills I’ve developed so far.

I had temporarily halted all work on TM129 so that I could get back out ahead with MST124.  That’s because after the disaster that was Unit 3 (functions, which should be much easier than MST124 made it), I thought I’d have to work through the Christmas break just to keep my head above water.  As I just finished Unit 6 (differentiation, which was mindbogglingly easy) and TMA02, I have a few days to head back to TM129 and pick up a bit of what I’ve stepped away from.

For MST124, it’s definitely easiest to work on the TMA after each unit to finish up the questions for that unit before carrying onto the next.  I ended up putting a whole tonne of unnecessary graphs in, particularly for vectors.  I thought of vectors as Applied Trigonometry, and thoroughly enjoyed them.  The whole thing came out at 3400 words and 27 pages.  My EMA for TU100 was 3500 words and 16 pages.  Who knew there was so much writing in a maths module?

TM129 is being picked up at the networking block, which is a large portion of my job.  It’s basically asking us to read portions of the Microsoft Windows Networking Essentials book, and then do OU activities around it.  I imagine this to be very, very similar to T216.

I mentioned on a tutorial last week that I’d done a MS computer-based training module for networking essentials about twenty years ago, and I swear there are entire paragraphs in this book which haven’t changed from that CBT in all that time.  I’m really not a fan of MS training.

The tutorial was a fun one.  Over the last two or three weeks, I’ve spoken on the mic extensively in four tutorials (two each from TM129 and MST124), and I’m getting a lot more out of them.  It’s even worth looking a bit stupid in the ones that get recorded.  It often feels as though the tutors come wanting a lot of interaction, but end up reading a slide show because it’s difficult to get much give and take.  It’s much easier with voice chatting than typing messages.

I mentioned last year that trigonometry had been my mathematical Achilles heel until I finally got it smoothed out by Khan Academy in preparation for MST-124.  It wasn’t that I couldn’t do it, it was that I’d have to re-invent it every time I saw a triangle.  And it turns out there are a lot of triangles.

I’m now officially on the far side of Unit 4, which is trigonometry.  By the time I opened up TMA02 and saw the trigonometry stuff, I caught myself saying, “Well this is easy!”  And I wasn’t even punished by the maths gods for my hubris!  It felt really great to be so at ease with the concepts in it.  I can no longer blame not properly learning trig for my failures, and will have to admit to not being that bright, instead.

I also finished the iCMA42 for MST-124 (which covers units 2 through 4) with full marks.  I managed to avoid making the silly, silly mistake I did on the last one, by forcing myself to triple check my answers with a calculator if I got confused by anything.  On the other hand, it took me 9 days and 10 hours to complete, so I can’t necessarily use the same techniques when it comes time for the exam.  A two-week exam would be just about right, though.

Even though I’ve put TM129 away for the time being, I had a chance to attend a last-minute online tutorial with my tutor last week.  He’d had a face-to-face scheduled about forty miles away (and about sixty miles from where he lives), and literally nobody signed up for it, so he sent out an email and did it online.

In the end, there were only three of us on it, but it was just him and me chatting by voice for the first fifteen minutes or so.  Obviously, we didn’t cover much of the actual module material, but we talked a lot about TMA strategies and general study skills.  It was good motivation, as well.  I haven’t yet attended any face-to-face tutorials, but am starting to think it could be quite advantageous.  It’d mean an entire evening away from my children, though, and that’s something I want to avoid after my father’s part-time associate degree left us practically feral for four years.

Whilst many of my TM129 peers received their module materials yesterday, I’m still (sort of) waiting for mine.  I’m only sort of waiting, because A) the James May show on the DVD is on YouTube, B) I already have an e-copy of the Microsoft Networking Essentials book, and C) the I, Robot book was a favourite of mine in junior high school.  As these are the only three things in the box, I can probably stop worrying.

I’ve looked a bit at the TM129 online materials, which starts on the Robotics block, but I’m not really bothered by it.  My studying will be very similar in style to TU100 (active reading through bullet-point notes, combined with activities stored in a OneNote notebook on the cloud), so while I probably will start the study a bit early, it’s not really necessary.

MST124, on the other hand … I can’t really figure out how to study this.  The first half of the module or so is going to be revision.  (That’s “review” to any other Yanks in the audience.)  I’ve spent a few hours this weekend trying to “study” it, but all I’m really doing is glancing over the descriptions, then working on the activities.  As it’s all review, I haven’t come across anything that I can’t do, yet, so I don’t know what to do when that happens.

I’ve got two weeks to study each unit, more or less, and there are twelve units.  In that time, I need to get through around 100 pages of text, a few hundred exercises (or at least several dozen), possibly sit through a tutorial, and get through either half of a TMA or an iCMA.  There’s probably more than a few exercises in Maxima thrown in, as well.  It’s not bad at all, it’s just not obvious where to put my time, especially when I’ll have to split it with TM129.  (Thank goodness there isn’t much actual learning to do in TM129.)

I think the first thing I’ll do is hope for recorded online TMAs.  If I can watch a recorded online TMA, I skip the roughly 30% of the time that the tutors give over to sitting around waiting for people to work on examples.  I watched two revision boot-camp tutorials this week, and easily saved 40 minutes on each of them by skipping over empty sections, and more time skipping parts not relevant to me.  The only questions I ever ask during tutorials anyway are those to do with policy.  I mostly sit in because I know the tutors will drop TMA-specific hints.

Next, until I get to differentiation, I’m going to work backwards when necessary.  I’d like to do all the activities in the books to make sure there are no blindspots, and because practice is the best way to retain maths skills.  If there is a blind spot, I’ll back up and run through it, encorporating external resources as necessary.

Finally, once I get to and past differentiation, I think I’m just going to wing it.  Read without notes, try exercises, and practice, practice, practice.  Taking notes just doesn’t make sense to me with maths.  The closest I’ll come is following along the examples with a pen in hand.  I may alternate weeks between MST124 and TM129, as splitting days may throw off my rhythm.

We’ll see how it goes.  My intent is to stay one unit ahead throughout the module.  I’ve fallen afoul of getting too far ahead before, and the motivational issues that causes.  It can also make it a headache for revision.

When deciding between the MU123 and MST124 maths modules for my degree, I put a fair amount of weight on the diagnostic “Are you ready?” quiz for MST124.  It said my results were good, there were a few areas I should brush up on, but overall I should be just fine on it.

I won’t start the module until 7 October, so I’ll have to wait until then before I throw their pants doused with lighter fluid onto a telephone wire and chanting, “Burn, liar!  Burn!”

I just don’t know how prepared I really am.  See, the OU have opened up a “revise and refresh” website for MST124.  It’s amazing that they even do that.  It has diagnostic quizzes with typical questions one might encounter on various MU123 blocks.  Depending on how well you do on that, they have some cheat sheets for reminding you how to solve certain problems.  (It keeps referring me to read blocks from MU123 … Uh … probably not worth it to buy the books on eBay.)

When I do those, I perform a bit better than I did on the MST124 AYR quiz.  I note my weak areas, I study the sheets, and I do better.  But it kept feeling like it was only checking a very, very narrow section of maths at that level.

So I went to my original plan for MST124 preparation: Khan Academy!  (I can’t say enough good things about this site.  My older son enjoys it about as much as he enjoys Roblox.)  I’ve been working over there for about a week, now, shoring up as many weak spots as I can find, but that list keeps getting longer, and longer, and longer.  The site can hone in on your weaknesses the way painkiller commercials claim their product can.  And the areas of study can be very, very specific.  Like … “Sinusoidal models word problems“.  I have to decipher it before I can decide whether or not I know it and/or need it.  (I apparently do know it.  But good luck ever getting me to recognise it.)

They’re not that difficult to study, it’s just that there’s SO MANY OF THEM!  I’ve “mastered” something like 650 identified skills, and have more than 500 to go.  Granted, that’s for all the maths they can currently teach and evaluate on Khan Academy.  I won’t need anywhere near all of them by the time I start MST124.  But the skills can sometimes take an entire night.  I’ve got a hundred and thirtysomeodd days until the module starts, and a lot of those are on holiday.  In a lot of ways, the pre-study preparation feels harder than TU100 was.

Unlike TU100, though, I’m learning tons, not just practising.  And the practise is definitely necessary to get me into fighting shape again for the module.  And more practise.  And some more.  And it’s also fun.  But that part isn’t different from TU100.  I’ve really enjoyed my journey so far.

I won’t know until after I’m in the middle of it which was better for preparation: The OU MST124 preparation site, designed specifically for it, or Khan Academy, which is pretty much drinking from the fire hose.  Or Niagara Falls.  We’ll see how it goes.

One final bit for today: Results for TU100 will be in on 19 July.  My tutor will give us a cheeky heads-up if we passed or not before that, but nothing more.

After five days of websites, phone calls, and emails, I’m finally enrolled on my next modules for Q62.  I’m finishing out Stage 1 with TM129 (Technologies in practice) and MST124 (Essential mathematics 1).  Enrolment for October 2017 opened on the 9th, and it finally got completely sorted this morning.  The website wouldn’t let me register on the first day, because it thought I was trying to take the modules in America from a UK address.  I don’t even know what that means, but I had to call the next day to sort it out.  Once they corrected that issue, they said I hadn’t sent in proof of residence in the UK.  Finding it pointless to argue what had or hadn’t been done, versus what had or hadn’t been lost by their IT systems, I sent in more proof.  The next hurtle was that they registered me on the phone for the modules, but didn’t tie those modules to my degree, so they wouldn’t count toward it.  (In the long run, this isn’t an issue, but it would have required more fuss next year, since my Stage 1 wouldn’t be cleared, even though I’d taken all the required modules.)  Student Finance England should start taking applications for part-time studies in the 2017/2018 academic year in around mid-May, but putting my SFE CR number in now switched me from just reserving the spot in the module until 20 April to being fully registered in it.

As with TU100, I will be on one of TM129’s final presentations.  The module’s final run is October 2018, but I think it has a February 2018 run before that.  It covers three main areas: Networking, Linux, and Robotics.  I’m glad that the degree is rounding out the ICT experience of its programme with these areas.  I’m extremely familiar with the first two, and a very poor hobbyist in the third.  My six year old son helped me build little toy robots last year, and this year he’s been working with a brilliant snap-together circuitry kit his auntie in America got him for Christmas.  Even though the practical portions of the robotics section is entirely virtual, I’m certain he’ll enjoy sharing those parts together.  It also comes with a copy of Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot, which was one of my favourite books in seventh grade.

MST124, I’m not ashamed to say, is a bit outside my abilities.  I will not be receiving a distinction on this module.  As only a bare pass is required and the specific outcome does not impact my degree classification in the slightest, I’m using this to full advantage and studying something I know I’ll only do about average on.  The trade-off is that I should learn and grow the most with this module.

I’ve finally found the block descriptions for MU123 and MST124, so here’s what you learn:


  • Basic maths review
  • Vocabulary and notation
  • Types of numbers
  • Statistical summaries (types of averages, significant figures, etc.)
  • Algebra
  • Graphs
  • Inequalities
  • Geometry
  • Advanced algebra
  • Quadratics
  • Statistical pictures
  • Trigonometry
  • Exponentials
  • “Maths everywhere” (which I’m guessing is making it practical, which means story problems)


  • Algebra review
  • Graphs and equations review
  • Functions
  • Trigonometry review
  • Coordinate geometry and vectors
  • Differentiation
  • Differentiation methods and integration
  • Integration methods
  • Matrices
  • Sequences and series
  • Taylor polynomials
  • Complex numbers

Now, why the OU can’t just put this list side-by-side someplace and let people choose is beyond me.  Looking at this, I can see that I had cleared MU123 by the ninth grade, including the level of trigonometry taught there.  I’m about halfway up the MST124 list, having done some differential calculus, but in dire need of a refresher.  I would be bored to tears on MU123.  So even though I’m quite certain I’ll get toward the lower end of between 40% and 84% on my end-of-module exam, MST124’s my route.  (I’ve heard the exam is multiple choice, though, so anything’s possible.)

It also has a revise & review site that opens up next week for early registrants to prepare them in case we’ve forgotten as much maths as we’ve learned.

Edit 14/03/2017: I’ve added the block contents of the two modules in another post, so you can finally compare which concepts you do or don’t have.

The question of which maths module to take is one that comes up a fair bit for students of the Open University, especially in STEM degrees.  It comes up so often, in fact, that the OU has a site devoted to the question.  For most people, this will mean choosing between MU123 (Discovering Mathematics) and the more difficult MST124 (Essential Mathematics I).

For some degrees, such as Maths, Physics, or Engineering degrees, the question is merely one of where you should start, as you’ll likely need to take and pass MST124 anyway at some point along your path. But for other degrees, you’re simply required to take a maths class, and which of the two you choose is completely up to you, with no effect on your degree or its classification.

As they’re Stage 1 modules, your pass level won’t affect classification. However, MU123 has a basic pass/fail structure, while MST124 allows the awarding of a distinction. I wouldn’t think this at all important, but someone pointed out that if they apply for a job while still on the degree course, it might be nice to say they passed all Stage 1 modules with a distinction.

I’ve mentioned earlier that I’m A) an immigrant, and B) a drop-out, so that makes deciding which maths to go into more difficult.  I was in advanced maths when I dropped out of high school early.  This would have meant I finished with the same amount of maths as non-advanced maths, but still beyond the compulsory amount required for all students. But I also skipped a year of maths before that, and had to self-teach some. So I’m left trying to match that up with “GCSE Maths” and “A-Level Maths” without anybody realising that the curriculum changes from time to time.  It would be so much easier if they simply said which mathematical concepts you needed to be familiar and comfortable with.

When I took the practice quizzes at the above mentioned site, I breezed through the MU123 quiz. When I took the MST124 quiz, I did alright through the first half of the questions, but it was taking me forever to remember formulas and rules I haven’t used in twenty years.  And the questions just felt tedious.  And I figured I just didn’t need that in my life.  So I didn’t even complete it.

Since it doesn’t make a difference to my degree, and it will be easier for me to get through and not burn me out, I was all set to simply take MU123 next year and never look back.  Working in the industry for as long as I have, I’m fairly certain it won’t ever come up in my job.

That was, however, before I encountered the Hitbox.

On a great series of MOOCs that I’m doing, I’m currently coding some graphics programmes. In all of the practice programmes we’re assigned so far, it asks us to only concern ourselves with the center point of the image, and pretend that if the image wanders halfway off the side of the screen, that’s still within the boundary of the screen.

I wanted to do it a little more advanced.  For instance, if the image is approaching the edge of a screen at a right angle, it can get as close as 1/2 the image size distance between the center-point and the screen boundary.  Easy enough to code that

But what if it’s approaching the boundary at an angle?  Now the corner of my image is further in the X or Y coordinate than half the image height or width.  How do I figure that out?

Well, it’s simple trigonometry.  As I mentioned the other week, I was self-taught in trig until last month, so I got a close look at a practical issue to see how well I understood it.  Here’s how I sketched out my problem:



It’s clear to see that the closest I can get to the top edge on the Y axis is going to be the distance between the center of my image and the corner of the image (also calculated using simple trigonometry) multiplied by the cosine of the indicated angle.  Cosine(y) = Adjacent Y/Hypotenuse Y, so Hypotenuse Y * Cosine(y) = Adjacent Y.  Similarly, I need that same hypotenuse (all corners will be the same distance away from the center in a square or rectangular image) multiplied by Cosine(x) to determine how close I can get along the X axis.

So that’s all pretty basic-level maths.  But it’s a very basic hitbox, too.  What if I don’t want to pretend my images are rectangles?  What if I’m having a scalene triangle interact with an irregular pentagon?  (Adding a third dimension isn’t really all that different, you just have to increase the number of checks that are made and the calculations that represent edges.)

It’s still not that difficult to calculate hitboxes, as it becomes a series of intercepting slopes being greater than or less than line segment points.  But the hitbox is just one tiny thing to calculate. And already my shortcomings in maths could have hampered a solution if I hadn’t prepared myself.

So I think I’m now edging toward MST124. To be clear, I don’t plan to go into programming, and though I’d love a proper Computer Science degree, this is as close as the Open University gets.  But I would like to have as many bases covered as possible, and not regret that I should have had more maths under my belt when I come across something I hadn’t considered in the future.  Besides, I did go back and finish the MST124 Are You Ready quiz, and it agrees that it’s a decent fit.

A few weeks ago when I reviewed OpenLearn’s Succeed With Maths MOOCs, I said that there was a much better option out there.

Course Title: Various, depending on what you want to learn
Provider: Khan Academy
Price: Free
Level: Introductory, Intermediate, Advanced
Effort: Self-paced
Prerequisites: None
Completion awards: In-site badges

About the course:

Khan Academy says they’re not a MOOC.  They’re Massive in intake, Open in philosophy, Online by nature … So that just leaves Courses.  They say they’re not a MOOC since they don’t have structured, led courses with beginnings and ends.  But they do have courses.  In fact, they have several different flavours of courses.  They have subjects, missions, skills, and … well, some kind of skill grouping that isn’t explicitly defined.  It’s in the vein of a cMOOC, rather than an xMOOC.

You just drop in, and drop out, and study what you need to study.  I’m not sure if the instruction is really as fantastic as I think it is, or if it’s just presented in a way that my unique brain makeup interprets and absorbs well, but it’s fantastic for me.

In junior high school, I had a teacher who held me back from the next year’s advanced maths class, because while I’d performed well in exams, I didn’t do any of the coursework. Then in high school another teacher noticed that the rest of the class asked me to re-teach what he’d finished lecturing about every day.  His response was to force be back up into advanced maths the following year.  The result was that I skipped trigonometry entirely.

I’ve struggled through with trigonometric functions, having taught myself a few of the rules, and then using the basic blocks I knew to struggle through more advanced issues, by combining those blocks with each other or with basic algebra.  But I’ve always felt like there was a huge gap in my learning because of this, and I’ve been a little ashamed of my skills in mathematics because of that gap.  I had tried multiple books over the years to fill that gap, but didn’t really feel like it got me anywhere.

Khan Academy filled that gap within 12 days.  In fact, what it did is show me in elegant, logical steps that were effortless to take in, that I’d gotten it right all along.  But now I don’t have to re-work and re-invent trigonometry each time I tackle it; they’ve made the knowledge much more accessible to me.

My five-year-old son was very excited to watch my progress, and see the badges I was getting, and how my avatar was growing.  He asked me to set him up an account, too.  I did, thinking he’d just log on, have a look, and log off.  Joke’s on me.

He goes on for about an hour a day, just to play.  By play, I mean take quizzes, work through practice questions, watch videos on new maths concepts … An hour a day.  And what has he learned?

He started out doing addition within the 1-20 range, and subtracting numbers in the 1-10 range.  He has now mastered two-digit addition and subtraction, is working on three-digit, can read an analog clock with or without numbers, can read information from bar graphs and solve story problems using two bar graphs, is better at understanding the operand required from story problems than I am, and is starting on geometric principles meant for 7 to 9 year olds.  In eight days.

He advanced so much, that his school literally started sending home worksheets for the next year’s maths.  Which is something that they said at the beginning of the year that they would not do under any circumstances.  (We had called for a meeting with his teacher and the head of English Learning for his school to discuss advanced reading for him, and it was stated then that their maths curriculum was designed in such a way that they would never allow students to use maths resources from advanced years. Which upset us, but didn’t think would become an actual issue.)

In addition to maths, you can study programming, history, music, economics … A lot of things. It is an amazing self-education tool and well worth any time invested in it.

As with the previous MOOC review, I had signed up to these courses to help prepare myself for university study.  When doing this, I’m hoping for useful content, but am willing to walk away with just reinforcing good study habits, as well.  These didn’t tick either box.

Course Title: Succeed with maths – Part 1, Succeed with maths – Part 2
Provider: The Open University via OpenLearn
Price: Free
Level: Introductory
Effort: Self-paced, 24 hours, estimated 8 weeks
Prerequisites: None
Completion awards: Statement of Participation, Open Badge

About the course:
I didn’t honestly get very far into the first course before I realised that this was an especially remedial maths course.  I hadn’t really expected the first one to be too much more involved, so I just took the quizzes to make certain I wasn’t going to be leaving a gap in my knowledge, and got through it.

The second course, though, I thought would at least have some kind of intermediary maths in it.  Instead, it advances to the level of reading graphs.

The problem with MOOCs like this is that anybody who is disciplined, organised, and educated enough to be able to learn from such a MOOC has already far outstripped the content of this MOOC.  This is to say that there is essentially a non-existent target group for this MOOC.  Here’s my Venn Diagram describing this:
Success with maths Target Students

[Source: My arse (2016)]

This makes it a useless course.  As a result, the content is useless, and it’s useless to use to develop study habits.

Thankfully, there ARE solutions out there.  One of the solutions is so fantastic that it’s shifted a portion of my study plan for my degree.  I’ll review this other solution at a later date.