Mane attraction

21st January 2000 at 00:00
Why have so many of us grown up with mathematics as such a blind spot? Part of the problem was fear of failure, in my case reinforced by a terrifying old-fashioned teacher. When I talked to education officers at historic, natural or cultural sites about Maths Year 2000 I was frequently met with an apology: "Oh, I'm afraid I'm useless with figures". With the current drive to improve numeracy, a change in attitude is having to be achieved.

The exploration of museums, heritage sites, the natural environment - even a local supermarket - all reveal hidden mathematical dimensions. Maths Year 2000 aims to make this easier, working with established agencies such as the Education Business Partnerships.

The best out-of-school maths activities are being devised by sites which work in close partnership with teachers. Why not talk to your own local museum to discuss developing a joint maths project?

Just one caveat: early museum worksheets meant a dreary slog between galleries to count widgets in glass cases. At some sites the need to develop a maths trail could lead us back up that path. Check resource materials before booking a visit.

The place to learn that maths has thousands of practical, everyday applications is in the real world, and there are more people out there than ever before willing to help teachers bridge the gap.

Fort Nelson Portsmouth. Education officer: Diana Walker, tel: 01329 233734 Advanced maths activities at this Victorian garrison, developed by consultant Joan Zorn, formerly of Cams Hill School, transcend mere arithmetic.

Joan's passion is for communicating mathematics as a creative subject. If you ever thought algebra was meaningless at secondary school, consider: y = 6 - x26.

When applied to a graph-plotting program this equation exactly describes the trajectory of a cannonball fired from the Fort's massive Armstrong Gun. Maths with a bang, that also fires the imagination.

CD or booklet copies of the resource material (free to state schools as part of the Government's Beacon School initiative, pound;5 to others) are available from: Stuart Inglis, Cams Hill School, Shearwater Avenue, Fareham, Hampshire PO168AH.

The Museum of the River and Rowing Henley on Thames, Oxon. Education officer: Emily Leach, tel: 01491 415607 Education staff had a hand in the planning of displays in the 1999 Museum of the Year and it shows. Mathematics underlies many exhibits and provide hands-on opportunities.

One gallery contains dozens of stuffed, mounted fish in glass cases. This could resemble little more than piscine wallpaper but for the addition of a table with three fish-shaped bags of sand in different sizes. Visitors use the bags to estimate which fish they are intended to represent.

My four-year-old daughter happily matched wall fishes to bag fishes, and older visitors were equally entertained.

The Livesey Museum for Children, Southwark, London. Education officer Caroline Sallis, tel: 0171 639 5604 This museum houses a purpose-built exhibition for primary children called "Number-crunching".

There are different zones, including "Chance", complete with its own roulette wheel, and "Time" which has a globe showing time zones around the world.

Activity contexts such as a shop kitted out with a miniature till or a three-dimensional snakes and ladders game place the emphasis firmly on learning through role-play and experiment: a visit could well break down adult taboos about maths.


Verity Walker is an education consultant working with Maths Year 2000 and director of Interpretaction, which helps museums develop education programmes.


Maths Year 2000,tel: 020 7637 8800.Wales: 029 2082 6013.

The National Trust, tel: 0171 222 9251.

English Heritage, tel: 020 7973 3442.

Field Studies Council, tel: 01743 850674.

British Museum, London, tel: 020 7323 8327.

A sample few: Hughenden Manor Estate, near High Wycombe, tel: 01494 755573.

Corfe Castle, Dorset Dorset Maths Service, tel: 01305 853992.

Liverpool Museum, tel: 0151 207 0001.

Techniquest, Cardiff, tel: 01222 475476.

Gallery, London, tel: 020 7747 2424.

York Museum, tel: 01904 653611.

Weald and Downland Open Air Museum,tel: 01243 811363.

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