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Celebrating mathematics at the International School of Cape Town

Despite living in this digital era where much of our daily lives depend on codes and passwords, the general public is largely oblivious to the importance of mathematics and why they need to learn it.

From an early age children need to be introduced and alerted to the usefulness of mathematics in their world. They also need to be taught deep mathematical ideas in a way that is age-appropriate, fun and relevant to their daily lives. Too many children are growing up believing that “maths is hard” or that “maths is not my thing”.

Celebrating maths internationally

Mathematics is celebrated in many countries around the world with entire months being devoted to it. In other countries, a national day of Mathematics is celebrated.1 In India, for example, National Mathematics Day is observed on
22 December each year. It is celebrated in order to mark the birthday of the world renowned mathematician Sri Srinivasa Ramanujan. His contributions to various fields of mathematics are world-famous. Another example is Mathematics (and Statistics) Awareness month that is celebrated in the Philippines. The aim here has morphed into celebrating the diverse range of aspects available for study in the fields of maths and statistics and to raise awareness of their relevance to everyday life.

Preparing for Maths Week

This is the second year that the International School of Cape Town (ISCT) is celebrating mathematics. In 2018, we observed Pi Day with a particular emphasis on all things Pi.2 In 2019, we extended our celebrations to a full week of activities that incorporated other areas of mathematics whilst still observing the Pi aspect on 14 March. It is a well-known fact that Pi Day is the annual celebration of the mathematical constant π . We use 3/14 in the month/day format because three, one, and four are the first three digits of π. This date is also Albert Einstein’s birthday, so we incorporated this into our celebration.
The teachers were provided with a few guidelines to hook the children’s interest, as well as a few suggestions that catered for the range of learning styles as well as the ages of the children in our key stage. One of the most popular tools in our stash of resources for Maths Week is film. Class teachers were given a choice of films to share with their classes. Some of these included The Story of 1, The Story of Math, Sir Cumference and the Dragon of Pi, Fractals, Hard Problems and Donald Duck in Mathmagic Land. These short films appealed to a range of ages across the key stage and to a range of mathematical abilities.
In addition to watching the films, the classes were also expected to use practical ways of incorporating mathematics into the daily activities. Each class across the key stage participated in the Live Mathletics as well as the prescribed Mathletics activities. They also completed art and cooking activities.

Year group specific activities

While each year group engaged in a host of activities that included online (Mathletics) games,3 watching maths-related movies, art and cooking activities, poetry writing and reading as many of the digits of Pi in the form of a song, what followed is a taste of each year group’s favourite activities from Maths Week. In Year 3, the children created dreamcatchers4 and made pancakes. In Year 4, the children created a Pi’ku5 and did a Pi paper challenge where, in groups, they had to create the longest chain possible using coloured paper representing different digits. They also created symmetrical patterns on paper plates using colourful paper cut into 2D shapes – this linked in with the geometry that we had just covered in class.
In Year 5, the children engaged in maths games in the form of a Station Rotation,6 Pi puzzles, Pi word challenges and reading activities that highlighted Islamic writing patterns and Islamic art. In Year 6, the children spent an increased amount of time on the World Maths Day activities7 on Mathletics, practising their mental maths skills. They also engaged in a range of art activities and conducted some research on mathematicians and scientists.

One of the highlights of Maths Week at the ISCT was Maths Dress Up Day. Everyone across the key stage dressed up in a maths-related outfit and the teachers each wore the digits of Pi. Another highlight of Maths Week was the aerial photo of the whole of our key stage forming the Pi symbol.

Rene Fahrenfort is head of maths (Key Stage 2) at the International School of Cape Town.

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Category: Winter 2019

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