A Cork-based teaching initiative is doing what many educators are finding increasingly difficult; engaging young people in maths. Over 500 11 to 18 year-olds have participated in a year-long maths adventure aimed at nurturing students’ numerical development outside the classroom.
Maths Circles is a volunteer-led initiative organised by University College Cork’s School of Mathematical Sciences and the Tyndall National Institute. It develops young students’ maths skills in ways that are designed to excite and inspire a long-term engagement with these critical numerical life skills. The free initiative is made possible by a real community ethos, with volunteers coming from local Cork schools and businesses such as Boston Scientific, Trend Micro, McAfee and Claran Consultants, as well as academics, researchers and students from UCC and Tyndall.
Key numeracy and mathematical skills that are not always conducive to classroom learning, such as conceptual understanding, problem solving and adaptive reasoning are all fostered through stimulating, hands-on experimentation and discovery learning. These abilities are all becoming increasingly important in the workplace, their development at a young age provides mutual benefits to students, schools, communities and future employees.
The initiative has proven exceptionally popular with girls, with over 60 per cent of those taking part being female.
Roisin O’Mahoney, Anna Smetanina, Paulina Oramus, students at Sacred Heart Secondary School in Clonakilty, won the best mathematical sciences award at the Scifest competition in CIT. Colm Kiely, a teacher at Sacred Heart, runs a maths circle every two weeks for First Year’s with the help of his Transition Year students, who source and research interesting maths problems and histories.
“The Maths Circle benefits the students running it as much as those attending, giving them a greater appreciation of the depth of the subject beyond the school syllabus,” explains Colm. “It also allows for a relaxed and fun engagement with maths without fear of being wrong, and more value placed on problem solving techniques and logical thinking. Students of all levels attend and enjoy it, each having something to offer and experience.
“I find a greater confidence amongst the girls who attend, in the standard classroom, particularly in problem solving style questions or unfamiliar new material. It also helps the transition year girls who run it to develop their problem solving techniques, which they will need for Leaving Cert. Outside of school performance, I find it nice for the students to be able to explore a maths topic without the end goal of getting a final answer of marks in a test.”
Maths Circles is partially funded by the Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) Discover Programme
One of the co-founders, Dr David Goulding of Tyndall said, “It is incredible to see the level of achievement these young students have obtained…We couldn’t be prouder of the hard work of, not only, the students but also the many volunteers who give up their free time to help the initiative.”