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Maths at Play! Overcoming the odds

October was all about ‘Amazing Maths’ at Imaginosity and, as the Education Development Manager, I for one couldn’t wait to get started. However, the programming for the month was not easy. When we decided to take part in Maths Week the first challenge to overcome was how to make maths fun and engaging for children under 9. As champions of the play to learn method favoured by many early educationalists and theorists such as Piaget and Vygotsky the challenge to incorporate maths was probably heightened by my own "Maths Phobia". I had all the classic symptoms in school, the palm sweating fear of getting called up to the front of class to recite my times tables, the head scratching awfulness of trying to solve quadratic equations, the blank expression when questioned on the sin, cos and tan of right angled triangles. How could I translate the maths I learnt in school to activities and workshops suitable for young children and avoid instilling in them “Maths phobia”? The answer I found that worked lay in getting to the heart of what maths really is and especially what maths skills enable us to do in the real world.

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Maths, according to the National Council for Curriculum Assessment (NCCA) website, is about the body of knowledge, skills and procedures that can be used in a rich variety of ways to describe illustrate and interpret, to predict and to explain patterns and relationships in Number, Algebra, Shape and space, Measures and data. In sum (excuse the pun) maths at its heart equips children with a way of seeing and understanding the world around them, and gives them the language tools necessary to explain it. The early years organisation, Early Childhood Ireland breaks maths down further into what they term early numeracy experiences. In early numeracy the focus is on number, pattern, shape, space, time colour and shape.

Equipped, with this new definition of maths, I began to see maths experiences everywhere in the museum.  I saw maths at play in the supermarket with families playing pretend shop, I saw the maths behind a child sorting out the pencils into different colours in the art room, maths once more came to the fore as a child created a pattern on the magnetic boards and suddenly the fear inducing task of creating fun interactive maths programming lessened and was replaced by excitement. The “Maths Phobia” I had at school was banished and the “Amazing Maths” weeks began to take shape.

The best part of maths week for me has been the challenge to take maths out of the class room and make maths fun, engaging and educational. Thanks to funding from Science Foundation Ireland  (SFI) we now have a brand new educational exhibit. Our ‘Maths House’ presents children with a selection of fun, engaging mathmatical tasks and puzzles involving space, shape, pattern, numbers, colours and size.  The funding from SFI also enabled us to invite 450 school children to take part in our “Fairy-tale Maths Quest” during Maths Week. The enjoyment of the children appeared to match my own enjoyment in developing the programme.