Maths Craft brings maths to the masses

Issue: Volume 99, Number 12

Posted: 31 July 2020
Reference #: 1HA9Nh

University of Canterbury mathematicians are promoting the playful side of mathematics teaching and learning through public outreach.

Maths Craft festivals like this one are helping change attitudes towards mathematics.

Maths Craft festivals like this one are helping change attitudes towards mathematics.

"Maths is often overlooked as a subject of beauty and imagination,” says 

Dr Jeanette McLeod, of the University of Canterbury (UC).

A mathematician and an educator, Jeanette has a passion for promoting the creative and playful side of mathematics.

As an avid crafter, Jeanette has long known that crafting uses a lot of maths. In 2016, she wondered if this could be an ideal way to bring maths to people in a fun and accessible way.

With the help of fellow UC mathematician and educator Dr Phil Wilson, Maths Craft New Zealand was born. It is the largest mathematics outreach initiative in New Zealand, and involves a small team of mathematicians, tertiary mathematics students, and education experts.

Maths Craft creates and provides free resources to students and teachers helping them to explore mathematical concepts using craft. Examples include crocheting a hyperbolic plane, folding an origami octahedron, and making a Möbius strip.

Origami Triakis Octahedron.

Origami Triakis Octahedron.

This way of approaching maths is non-threatening, playful, and accessible, say Jeanette and Phil. It allows students to think like mathematicians by encouraging them to use a curiosity-driven and playful approach. Craft can also be a clever way to communicate mathematical concepts that often seem intangible.

Free public events

Maths Craft frequently run public festivals promoting the fun and artistic side of mathematics. The festivals are free events aimed at all ages, including students, whānau, and aiga, inviting participants to take part in various craft activities designed to explore mathematical concepts in creative and accessible ways. The decision to cater to families too was a conscious one, says Jeanette.

“How many kids inherit their fear of maths from their parents?” she remarks.

Since 2016, Maths Craft has reached over 13,000 people through festivals, teacher workshops, and other events.

Jeanette and Phil aim to change attitudes towards mathematics on a large scale. At the festivals, participants are asked before and afterwards about their attitudes towards mathematics. Remarkably, no participants have reported disliking mathematics after attending a festival.

Crocheted Mobius Strips.

Crocheted Mobius Strips.

“We ask the public what they think maths is for - they say teachers or engineers,” says Jeanette.

Jeanette and Phil are concerned about a lack of people pursuing mathematics and science careers, and believe this will be detrimental to the country in the long term.

Teacher workshop pilots

To reach teachers, Jeanette and Phil have been piloting workshops for school teachers. The workshops aim to help teachers support mathematical thinking in their students and increase student confidence through designing fun and accessible tasks. The workshops also focus on improving teachers’ self-efficacy and giving them concrete classroom ideas and techniques.

While Covid-19 has thrown a small spanner in the works for Maths Craft, Jeanette and Phil have been busy making plans for their next project, ‘Maths Craft in a Box’. The box is set to be a student-driven set of activities with online video resources.

The activities in the box will include explicit links to The New Zealand Curriculum and will be aimed at Year 7 and 8 students. This is the age where students are beginning to make decisions about maths and STEM subjects and deciding whether or not they are ‘good’ at these subjects, says Jeanette.

The ‘Maths Craft in a Box’ pilot will run in some Canterbury schools in early 2021.

Free online Maths Craft resources(external link) available to be used in schools.

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BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 8:52 am, 31 July 2020

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