Math can be a subject that is filled with the joy of discovery , or boring and difficult, depending on many factors. Hey Math finds out what makes Math fun...

Say “Math” and a lot of people would shudder with dislike. Or say you're studying Math, and people would either give you a look that said “Are you quite alright?” or simply, “You must be a brain, yaar!” Math seems to be a subject that evokes strong reactions — students either love the joy and adventure of it, or are put off by how ‘difficult' or ‘boring' it is. The fear of not being able to do Math dogs many a student — so that once the examinations are over they don't want anything to do with it at all.

It's interesting

At a conference in Chennai organised by Hey Math, experts addressed issues of making Math a more interesting and fun subject to learn. Hey Math is an e-learning platform and takes interesting learning material that makes learning maths fun to classrooms. The speakers gave inspiring examples from their wide-ranging experiences in teaching and research in Mathematics on what could make learning Math a pleasure rather than something a student would dread. One of the main focuses of the conference was the teaching of the subject — teachers, can either bring the subject to life or destroy it.

But, behind the scenes, it is the curriculum that influences everything else. Without a balanced curriculum, addressing any other aspect of Math education would be futile. One of the speakers, Toni Beardon from Cambridge Univversity, UK explored the key aspects of a balanced curriculum. There are three parts to it — Problem solving (Mathematical Thinking) Concepts ( mathematical Ideas) and skills (tools and techniques). She said that there is an overload of concepts which a students has to learn, and an emphasis on applying the skills involved. Problem solving is a neglected area. This could be because the pressure to get the right answer becomes more important than understanding the concepts of a particular area of Math. This is especially true of teaching of math in the past; routine procedures were used to teach concepts and problem solving skills were not given any attention at all.

Gautham Ramakrishnan, a first year B.A. student at MCC says “I learnt enough math to get by in day to day life. I found Algebra, Geometry and trigonometry very abstract....”

So what about that key factor, creativity in the teaching of Maths? A teacher could always introduce an ‘abstract' concept imaginatively, as there is always a practical example to draw from. And then…there is the question of problem solving. The solution is always at hand, but getting there is a fairly intricate process of exploration. A student verbalising questions will think in terms of the concepts involved, and a teacher could facilitate this verbalising by raising the right questions. A teacher no doubt, knows a lot but should refrain from giving away the answers. Coming to grips with the concepts involved would facilitate problem solving skills, and presto, the answer does not seem too far away.

As Nimila, Std. X, The School KFI puts it “Solving a problem is like a treasure hunt. Thinking about a problem motivates me more and more to get the right answer. Even if you don't get it, it's still fun... Math is not like any other subject... you need to understand it and you can't get anywhere by mugging ...”

Supportive environment

Making a mistake, however, is natural — and the creative classroom is a place that supports learning. The creative classroom would be a space where explorations of all kinds are possible. Some key steps to creative problem solving seem to be : Looking for connections, explaining the steps of a problem and generalising. Students who have come to grips with this seem to enjoy Math all the more.

Sanchita Ashok, at SSM Engineering College says “Learning new concepts was really interesting at college level. It's completely different and exciting when applied to engineering. I've always been a student who loved Math ...” Dr. Balasubramaniam, former director of academics, CBSE, too, stressed the importance of creative learning. The classroom culture is crucial to this. In the past, the tendency of the teacher was to discourage the student from asking questions. But not only should the asking of questions be encouraged, the learning style of the student should be nurtured; students have very individualised learning styles -- for example kinesthetic, visual and auditory.

Shoba, Std. X, Shri Venugopal Vidyalaya, says “I like Maths because my teacher explains each and every step clearly. I'm also allowed to think on my own... the Maths tests are fun too...”

Taking things a step further, the ultimate aim of a Maths teacher would be to nurture a life-long passion for Mathematics. Dr. Priscilla Krempl from Singapore drew on the example of the Indian Mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan for whom delving into the mysteries of Mathematics was not just a profession but a calling. So... anybody out there... is Maths calling ?

For more information on Hey Math : www.heymath.com