Maureen McTaggart meets the man whose mission is to impart his love of maths.
The door of the classroom opens and 30 pairs of eyes swivel round to look at the newcomer. As the children check him out their eyes are irresistibly drawn to his large hands. As if reading their minds, and without a hint of discomfort, Mr Numbervator raises 10 fat fingers in the air for inspection. He is encouraged by the grins of the nine-year-olds and bounds to the front of the classroom to begin the day's maths lessons.
There follows a quick-fire revision of multiplication tables with the aid of the large polystyrene fingers. A game of "fill 'er up" follows, which involves students using ladles of water to fill a 25ml bottle in the shortest time possible. The object of the game is to get the children to understand standard metric units for measures with litres and millilitres. "Needless to say the floor can get a little damp," says Mr Numbervator. "But I don't mind mopping up puddles if it means children get the message that maths can be fun."
Mr Numbervator leads a double life. The pupils at Donnington primary school in Willesden, London, are in on the secret, though. They know that in his smart suit and tie he is Mr Anoom, who has been teaching at the school for five years. But when he dresses in a number-covered track-suit with matching cap and shoes he becomes the maths superhero. Mr Anoom's maths lessons are usually serious affairs but when he wants to get a difficult point across he changes persona. In his wacky-maths-teacher guise he is a bundle of frenetic energy. Crunching numbers is his hobby and he wants to enthuse everyone with his love of maths and its occasionally mind-boggling concepts.
"The most important thing is that I love being a teacher and I love maths. And I wnt to banish the fears children have of the subject and get them turned on to numbers," says Mr Anoom, who conceived the Mr Numbervator character six years ago.
Fame soon beckoned in a series of 25-minute early morning slots on the television programme Carlton Kids, which attracted the attention of other maths teachers. The mini maths lessons proved popular and invitations to "perform" at school assemblies and In-service training days started to come in. However, Mr Anoom is at pains to point out that the character should be taken seriously. "Mr Numbervator is not a clown. He is a serious character who is teaching maths skills to young children through interactive activities. I don't claim to be the best maths teacher, but I do claim to be able to put maths across in a form that is accessible to all," he says.
Luckily for Mr Anoom his headteacher is very supportive as he is often called on to help children handle their numbers at Maths Fests all over Britain and Ireland. "I couldn't do this without the support of the head and my colleagues. They believe in what I am trying to achieve and don't begrudge the time I need to do this. I am dedicated to the school and my pupils and Mr Numbervator is not allowed to get in the way."
Mr Anoom has designed a number of games, books, CDs and videos based on the numeracy strategy, which he plans to make available to schools. He has come far since his first performance for Maths Year 2000 initiative earlier this year though he does have one regret: "I bumped into Carol Vorderman at the launch of Maths Year 2000 but unfortunately she didn't have time to swap any trade secrets."
Isaac Anoom can be contacted on tel: 0208 961 4382 or at Maths Year 2000, 57-58 Russell Square, London WClB 4HP. Web: www.mathsyear2000.org