Looking towards Maths Week

Issue: Volume 97, Number 10

Posted: 25 June 2018
Reference #: 1H9jMG

Maths Week is celebrating its 21st year in New Zealand schools this year. From August 13 to 17, Maths Week provides teachers and students with a week of resources that seek to make maths practical, interesting and fun for students.

Maths Week is celebrating its 21st year in New Zealand schools

Maths Week presents curriculum mathematics by encouraging students to explore and find their own way to solutions.

New Zealand Association of Mathematics Teachers (NZAMT) President Gillian Frankcom says she often hears how teachers find inquiry-based learning is effective in engaging students, but how difficult it is to present mathematical topics in this format. Maths Week provides resources for Years 1–11 students that present mathematical concepts as inquiry-based learning over five levels of difficulty.

An example of this is the new in-class challenge, ‘The Survivor Series’. Students are presented with mathematics theory and are then challenged to solve problems and think through the real-world applications of these topics.

For instance, one component raises the issue of artificial intelligence (AI) and how it learns. It then challenges students to remember a set of memorisation trials and, in doing so, reveals the advantages that would come with infallible memory – as AI has.

Finally, students discuss in groups the applications this kind of permanent learning could have for the future of AI.

The ‘Survivor Challenge’ is one of many problem-solving tasks – the component on prime numbers instructs teachers, ‘The student challenge does not give any clear way for students to work the problem out. The method is in the teacher’s answers. Teachers may decide how much they tell their students!’.

This series has the extra appeal of gamifying the experience, with students working to earn a key word at the end of each day’s lesson – which by the end of the week will form a sentence that leads them to the ‘Maths Week treasure’ somewhere on their school grounds.

Using technology to make maths fun

Over recent years, technology has also played an increasingly large role in Maths Week – with students accessing mathematics games on their computers and cellphones. Gillian says these games endeavour to capture the hearts and minds of students.

“[With the games we create], the students need to see the good in the game and not notice too much that there is some really good maths going on for them,” she says.

In fact, over recent years, many students continue to play these games outside of school.

“Often, we find that our traffic is quite large after school and into the early evening. The children are prepared to go home and go onto the Maths Week site – how wonderful is that?”

The programme also presents challenges that gamify classroom mathematics lessons. This year’s ‘Daily Dollar Questions’ provides teachers with a daily, five-question quiz.

For each question a student gets correct, they receive an amount of fictional money – this money is pooled and at the end of the week the student with the highest pool is the winner. NZAMT suggests teachers could incentivise their students with a prize for the highest total.

The questions have a unique and fun approach. For instance, one of the quizzes focuses on movies about mathematics, asking questions about popular films such as ‘Hidden Figures’ and ‘The Theory of Everything’.

Gillian says the format of the challenges are designed to make students less hesitant about giving problems a go and works to remove the fear of getting a question wrong.

“When problem solving is whole class work, some students might be afraid to talk out and risk being wrong. But, on the computer, students can do it for themselves without having to worry that someone else might see they couldn’t answer it.”

This is important for growing students’ skills and confidence as mathematicians, Gillian says, with the current mode of thinking saying students need to understand that being wrong and reworking your answers is a key part of doing mathematics.

Over the past five years, Maths Week has grown considerably – with last year’s Maths Week involving almost 300,000 students and 5,000 teachers, across over 2,000 schools. Maths Week is presented by the Ministry of Education, NZAMT and Casio.  

Registration for Maths Week is open now. Teachers can register their classes by going to Maths Week 2018(external link)

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero, reporter@edgazette.govt.nz

Posted: 9:10 am, 25 June 2018

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