Helicopters and relay races make Maths Week a success

3rd November 2017 at 00:00
A coming together of schools, members of the public and politicians has kick-started a new national maths event

As the dust settles, we await the verdict on our inaugural Maths Week Scotland. Is enthusiasm for the subject increasing? Will students, teachers, parents and the wider community have a greater appreciation for mathematics? Can we kick-start a generation of Scots to study maths at university? What kind of legacy will endure?

But in the immediate aftermath (pardon the pun) of that week in September, we could admire the sheer volume of maths-promoting activity nationwide. Here are just a few highlights from those seven days, shared via Twitter under the hashtag #MathsWeekScot.

Students, teachers and members of the public were treated to entertaining talks all over the country, including inspirational words from meteorologist Heather “The Weather” Reid and numerous performances from national mathematical treasure Professor Adam McBride.

Anecdotes abound of teachers leaving these talks with renewed enthusiasm and students heading back to school motivated to learn more.

A maths teacher dragged her husband to one talk. By the end, this reluctant attendee was a maths convert and emailed to sign up for my weekly newsletter, so he could get his regular maths fix.

Creative learning experiences

Schools embraced Maths Week Scotland and the freedom it gave to focus on mathematics. Nationwide, teachers in nurseries, primaries, secondaries, colleges and universities were organising and sharing creative learning experiences.

One masterstroke saw a Royal Navy helicopter land on the playing fields at Arbroath High School, before students heard from pilots about the maths of aviation. Schools called in favours from everywhere to arrange speakers who talked passionately about how maths was vital in their everyday careers. Deputy first minister and education secretary John Swinney set daily maths challenges, created by the Scottish Mathematical Council.

Some authorities relished the chance to run ambitious, large-scale team challenges. Angus, for example, had maths-based relay races, a treasure hunt and a logic puzzle whereby pupils had to work out how to get a car out of a crowded car park. The joy on the faces of the young mathematicians suggested that positivity about the subject is blossoming.

The week saw the launch of a brand new competition, “Maths wi nae Borders”, with thousands of students participating. It was based on a well-established Europe-wide event, “Mathématiques sans Frontières” – but in this version students had to complete one question out of the five in Gaelic or Scots, with 471 classes participating. Online maths competitions from Sumdog and Manga High also proved popular.

On top of all this, there were maths masterclasses, maths assemblies, maths contests, maths visits, maths videos, maths songs, maths poetry, outdoor maths … honestly, too much to mention.

The motivation, positivity, innovation, enthusiasm and love of maths were staggering. Roll on Maths Week Scotland 2018.

Chris Smith is a maths teacher in Scotland who writes a free weekly maths newsletter with 2,300 subscribers. He tweets @aap03102

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