Optimus Prime, Prime Minister… but what about Prime Numbers?

Spark Academy’s Maths department are so excited to introduce you to a new mathematical discovery. It’s all about the prime numbers here!

We are only in the second month of 2018 and the Mathematical community has already been shaken by the discovery of the largest prime number known to date!


Wait wait wait. What is a Prime Number?


Students at Spark begin to look at prime numbers in Year 6, and are taught that a number is a prime number only if they have only two factors; 1 and itself.

Some basic examples include the first three prime numbers;




These numbers can only be divided by themselves and 1. 2 is something of an odd one out in this list… Can you guess why? Leave your ideas in the comments.

We can check to see if a number is prime by factorising a number. Factorising is where we break a number down into its smallest possible numbers of factors ie. numbers that divide into a bigger number.

For example: the factors of 30 are 1, 30, 2, 15, 3, 10, 6, and 5. These are all of the numbers that you can divide 30 by.


Can you find the factors of 50? What about 124? Comment your thoughts below!


For a number like 719, the factors are 719… and 1.

If there are exactly 2 factors, then it will be prime! Pretty simple, right?


What’s the easiest way to find out if a number is prime?


Now this is where the property of prime numbers comes into play; is there an efficient way to determine if a large number is prime or not?

Unfortunately, this very question has stumped the best mathematicians over many centuries, and there just doesn’t seem to be any simple way to factor a number efficiently. Computers use brute force and processing power to work it out. This involves checking every possible combination of factors to see if it is divisible by any number.



What is the number then?


To put into perspective the size of the new largest prime number is 23,249,325 digits long. The factorisation process took six complete days of non-stop computing to verify it.

To get some idea of the size of this number, and to see this number in all its glory, it would take just over 9,000 A4 pages if printed out fully. It’s a little too big for us to print here!

This new number is 910,807 digits longer than the previous record holder, which was discovered only 12 months ago!


But you ask: What is the point of all this?!


It was during the 1970’s, along with the advances of computer processing technology at the time, that it became apparent that prime numbers become very important to the encryption of data. These numbers are used to hide important secrets. Governments and intelligence agencies use data encryption all the time.


Encryption algorithms rely on the fact that it is very easy to multiply two (very large) prime numbers together, whilst it is extremely difficult to find a possible factor by dividing. This makes it very difficult to just simply guess what number was used in the encryption in the first place.

It is because of prime numbers which can allow intelligence agencies around the world this such as MI5, the CIA and the KGB to transfer national secrets without it falling into the wrong hands and spilling the proverbial beans. Did you ever think numbers could be linked to spies?

In an upcoming blog, we will be looking further how you can find your very own record breaking number, so stay tuned!

Student Thought: No Stuffy SATs Prep at Spark

When we think of students preparing for exams, most of us think of GCSEs. We even posted about Spark’s GCSE preparation here but they aren’t the only students in an important year. Our Year 6s are in full SATs swing now and enjoying the support that Spark offers in the run up to their exams.

It’s not just in our own after school lessons that we offer SATs support. Over the past two years Spark has been supporting schools with their preparation – you can read all about our successes here.


What do the Year 6s study at Spark?


Like all of our Year groups, the Year 6s follow the national curriculum. For them, this includes the content that they will be tested on in May and exam skills practise. They will be tested on numeracy and numerical reasoning for Maths and spelling, punctuation, grammar and comprehension in English. This is exactly what they spend their time at Spark studying.


What do the Year 6s have to say about Spark?


Rhea told us that she enjoys


learning interesting things


to support her SATs preparation. Mohammed said that at Spark


they go over stuff that school doesn’t […] and adapt lessons to your learning


which goes to show the dedication that the Spark teachers put in to making sure that SATs preparation is relevant to each class and each individual student.

Many of the students commented on how much they enjoyed the lessons each week because of


a variety of activities


SATs related games and because they


enjoy how the teachers teach


Of course, much of the preparation for SATs involves exam-style questions and practise papers, but we’ll thrilled to hear how much our students enjoy our lessons!


Is Spark the best place for SATs prep?


Over half of the students we asked told us that they didn’t look anywhere else for tuition. We thought that was a big compliment! The others told us that they chose Spark over other providers because


it gave me better education




it stood out from the rest


which is always fantastic to hear.


Are there any places left for Year 6?


Now that we’re so close, our classes are filling up quickly. There are a few spots left across our two sites but you will need to be quick; book your free trial today!



What’s the link between Maths and Pancakes?

When it comes to interesting facts and fantastic blog posts, our Maths department is on fire! They even have a way to use maths in your pancakes today…


What’s so special about Pancake Day?


In the Christian calendar, this Tuesday is officially known as Shrove Tuesday, and is the day before Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent.


Shrove Tuesday is also known in parts of the world as Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, giving reference to the last day of gorging before the fasting period of Lent.


But what do pancakes have to do with Lent, hear you ask? Well, it was tradition that foods such as eggs, butter and fats were encouraged to be used up before Lent began – all common ingredients that are used in pancakes. That’s why lots of people eat pancakes on Shrove Tuesday.


And here comes the Maths-y part to the blog…how do you make the perfect pancake?


Well luckily for us, the University of Sheffield’s Maths Society has cooked up a formula for the exact measurements required:


Mixture per pancake: 

Total mixture required:



Frying pan diameter:                      D cm

Desired thickness of pancake:     T cm

Number of pancakes wanted:     P


To go one step further, the maths society has even created an excel document to show how much of each ingredient is needed, depending of course on the desired quantity of pancakes, and size of the frying pan. The quantities are given based on a recipe by Delia Smith.

To view the excel spreadsheet, you can view it on the University of Sheffield website

How does the formula compare to your usual pancakes? Please let us know in the comments section below!


Who is January’s Employee of the Month?

It’s time to nominate another employee of the month! As you know, at Spark we like to celebrate our staff for their achievements.

Our previous employees of the month have been Chris and Nidhi and you can read all of why they were nominated by clicking on their names.


So… Tell us, who it is!


Our employee of the month for January is… Charlotte!



Here are some of the fantastic things people said:


She’s doing an amazing job, especially with commitments to Sacred Heart


She works really hard and creates a positive atmosphere every day.


She has worked very had and has taken on more with Sacred Heart.


Well done Charlotte! Keep it up.

Who is January’s Student of the Month?

It’s time again to celebrate our students for their hard work and perseverance over the course of the term. Our previous students of the month were Neha PatniShreya Kumari and Adnan Ahmad. This month our student of the month is an A-level student – our first this year!


Why has this student been nominated?

Our student of the month this month is… Bhupinder Walia!


Gemma, Bhupinder’s biology teacher, told us that


Bhupinder has been recognised in Biology for his sheer determination and desire to succeed. He has not let the difficulty of the subject defeat him and instead has come back this month fighting. Bhupinder has worked really hard and acted on feedback given to him and we have already seen an improvement in his progress. I think he is an inspiration. A big well done and keep going!

Bhupinder was also nominated by his chemistry teacher, Mital. Being nominated by both the headteacher and the founder of Spark really shows you just how fantastic his work this month has been!


Congratulations Bhupinder! Keep up the good work.

Teacher Talk: Understanding Literature

This week’s Teacher Talk is from our English teachers. Literature is an important aspect of studying English, but for many students reading something written almost 100 years ago can be a little off-putting. Our teachers share some of their ideas for bringing great novels to life in tuition.


Why do we study literature at Spark?


Literature isn’t just important because it’s on the GCSE curriculum. Reading is a way of thinking about the world in a different way. This can be especially important when thinking about history. Many of the novels studied in schools are chosen because of their important place within history and Animal Farm is no exception.



Why Animal Farm?


Most of our Year 9 students had never heard of George Orwell’s Animal Farm. That is, until we started studying it at the beginning of January. Now they not only know what happens during the novella, but they’ve also started to understand the difference between communism, socialism and capitalism. They’ve explored the impact of propaganda and thought critically about their own political ideas. And of course they’ve sharpened their analytical and writing skills!


How does studying a novel work at Spark?


As we teach our students once a week for English, we aren’t able to read through the whole text in class. What we can do though, is look at important extracts that demonstrate the key themes and characters.

We started our study of Animal Farm by exploring the key themes and how they are presented in the text.



We looked at context and the main characters involved in the novel.


Students did their own research into some of the key terms at home before we looked at more detailed context together.


It was important for the students to understand how the characters in Animal Farm parallel the real-life politicians during the Russian Revolution.

Most recently we looked at the use of propaganda in the novel. We used this as an opportunity to consider how each of us would run a farm. Our student wrote a speech and created a poster campaign to showcase their ideas.

Students peer-marked each others speeches to think about their use of persuasive techniques. They also check spelling, punctuation and grammar.


Some tables worked as a group to share ideas on their slogan and logo, before creating their own poster.


Slogans and main campaign points definitely stand out here!


Lots of colour helps the campaign points stand out on this poster. You can see where another student has peer-marked this speech in purple pen.


We try to make our lessons engaging and interactive for our students. By introducing creativity and asking our students to question their own ideas, we encourage them not only to explore the text we’re studying but to examine it place in their lives. Showcasing your plan for running ‘Animal Farm’ is a good way of understanding how the themes and characters in the novel realistically relate to your own life.


Are you interested in reading Animal Farm? You can read it online here.

Student Thought: Why choose Spark for GCSE?

Looking for tuition in your GCSE years can be a daunting prospect. Even at the beginning of Year 10, you might feel that you only have a short time before you will be sitting your exams. For this week’s student thoughts, we asked two of our Year 11 students to talk to us about why they chose Spark Academy.



When did they join Spark?


As you know, we have trials running fortnightly throughout the year. This is for Year 11 as well as younger years, so you can rest assured that our current Year 11s aren’t only made up of long-established loyal customers; we have Year 11 students joining consistently throughout the year.

Amisha and Bibi are two such Year 11s at our Oadby site. Both students joined during our Autumn term, choosing Spark as their tuition provider in the final run up towards their GCSEs. Both students attend our English, Maths and Sciences classes, proving that Spark is really an all-rounder when it comes to GCSE preparation.




Why did they chose Spark?


Bibi told us that one of the reasons she chose Spark was that we


cover more of the school curriculum and required information


At Spark, we pride ourselves on keeping up to date with changes in the national curriculum. As far as possible, we also tailor our lessons to the exam boards. In English, we also study the specific texts our students are studying at school. This gives them an extra edge when approaching their exam revision.


Code breaking is new to the maths curriculum


Amisha also told us this was one of the reasons she chose Spark over her previous tuition provider, saying


I prefer that they cover more school content



What else do they like about Spark?


Bibi told us that


Maths is one of my strong points and I enjoy calculations in both Science and Maths. I have learnt to enjoy English more as the teacher explains things if I don’t understand


The importance of explanation and ensuring that all of our students are on the same page also came across in Amisha’s thoughts what she enjoys about Spark:


teachers are willing to explain, like in school


It’s always great to hear that what we strive to do in our lessons is appreciated!



That’s great – but what about when it comes to GCSE revision?


Thinking about how tuition can help you with revision is really important and it’s actually something we think about when planning our lessons.

Amisha told us that


the booklets are great revision and there are plenty of exam-style questions



Our bespoke booklets are designed to continue supporting our students even after their lesson is over. The booklets have explanation and advice in them to help our students progress towards their target grades. We also understand that at this stage, being able to tackle exam-style questions is a significant part of our students’ revision. This is why they are a staple in our lessons and homeworks.




It sounds fantastic! But… wouldn’t one-to-one be better in the run up to exams?


One-to-one tuition can be a fantastic tool, but at Spark we are always striving to develop our students holistically as well as academically. To us, the value of group tuition is the confidence it can inspire in our students and the problem-solving and teamwork skills it promotes.

Many of our students actually choose us over one-to-one tuition because of the holistic package Spark offers. Bibi told us


I did one-to-one at home with a tutor but I work better in a group where we discuss and understand together


We’re always thrilled to have such wonderful things said about us here at Spark. Why not share your GCSE experiences in the comments?