Teaching maths via fun and games

Neha Khan

Every opportunity to learn from someone else by being part of different learning experiences, either formal or informal, turns out to be a milestone. One such example for me was my participation in ‘math-a-thon’, a competition to relate mathematical concepts with traditional or local games to reinforce the learned concepts.

This programme was aimed at making undergraduate students familiar with the real essence of mathematics in order to develop interest among school-going students. Through engaging with school and university students, concern and curiosity among learners was inculcated to lead them towards conceptual and logical understanding of basic mathematics concepts.

This experience was new for me and helped me boost my confidence as I got to learn not only from my team but also from other participating teams. Quite honestly, it was the first time I had ever thought about mathematics in a way that added not only to the students’ knowledge but also strengthened my own comprehension of existing concepts.

Frankly, when I came to know about the competition, I was a bit confused about the application of this idea in schools. Teachers learn various teaching strategies but sometimes don’t or can’t apply them in class due to reasons as varied as a large class size or simply unwillingness of the students to become involved. If this happens then the concepts have little practical value.

That’s why I looked into the efficiency of traditional games in learning maths concepts in different researches done in Indonesia and Iran among other countries. Being a student-teacher, I always analyse the practicality of any situation or task given to me especially in academics and I did the same this time.

Along with my students, I prepared different traditional games. During the competition, it was mandated that two school students were an integral part of every team. The task was to come up with at least five games linked to the team’s respective grades while also ensuring active participation of school students (who were from IBA-Sukkur Public School).

My interaction with the students on the team gave me a sense that their confidence was increasing with every passing moment and they communicated better and better with us. They were equally impressive in their presentation to the judges.

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The competition was organised by Alif Ailaan and Pakistan Alliance for Maths and Science. In my opinion, it achieved its objective. Reflecting on my own school days I found such instances missing where an association was created between the students’ learning and their real life experiences.

It has been my observation that students are more actively involved in learning through hands-on activity or by game/sports rather than just listening to the teacher or instructor or staring at the board. Interacting with the students, I gathered this way of learning math pushes their curiosity and compels them to seek out the real thought or sense of the concept rather gaining surface knowledge about the procedure of any mathematical sum. And when I compare their sentiment with learning theories and literature, I find overlapping points between the two.

Our team picked five local games which we linked to selected topics from National Mathematics Curriculum. Our first game was Stapu (hopscotch) through which we teach shapes, the second game was Ludo through which we introduced the idea of fraction and basic arithmetic operations, and the third game was ‘ango-mango’ through which we taught the components of circle. We picked basketball to explain the idea of inverse and direct proportion. Similarly, we picked up a fifth game to learn other concepts.

We won the prize for linking Stapu to a mathematics concept. Our strength lay in the fact that students at young age are mostly inclined to play games involving physical activity. When one uses games the students play at home, they prove very useful in aiding learning about shapes as the students are familiar with them.

If a teacher uses this game to teach various shapes then students can develop their interest in maths from early years of schooling. Teachers can also modify the games to teach multiple topics to students at different levels.

The self-realisation, internal drive and confidence which pushed me and my team members to win the competition showed me the way forward to be an active participant in other activities and competitions too.

I applied what I’d learned here on my students whom I teach as a tutor. I found them more interested in maths than normal. In fact, now they always try to conceptualise the problem and ask logical questions to deepen their understanding. An exchange of thoughts with team members, who are also students of education department, made us realise the efficacy of this idea and the low cost of its application in a classroom to be able to build critical higher order thinking among students.

In a nutshell, I believe such competitions should take place on a regular basis, at educational institutions to provide the missing connection between the higher and school education.

I urge our government to adopt such teaching methodologies in government schools so that our next generation is not lost in passing exams but focuses on the ‘learning’ and ‘understanding’. This would also boost the students’ self-confidence and encourage them to think out of the box.

The writer is B.Ed. Student, Department of Education, IBA-Sukkur

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