The second annual Julia Robinson Mathematics Festival was held on March 24 at Singapore International School. A festival that was founded in the US, the annual event was introduced to Hong Kong by Dr Tan Chee-Wei, an associate professor at the Department of Computer Science of the City University of Hong Kong.
Tan brought the festival to Hong Kong because he thought the festival would benefit a lot of kids. The festival has been running in various states in the US for the past 20 years but is new to Asia. This year, it attracted around 240 primary students from international and local schools.
The maths festival inspires students to use math creatively and encourage collaborative problem solving. Dr Mark Saul, executive director of the Julia Robinson Mathematics Festival, New York, stressed that the festival was not a competition and fosters a non-competitive atmosphere for a subject he refers to as “vital and creative” and not just textbook exercises.
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Saul spoke to us about how his 35 years of classroom teaching experience has helped him use the form creatively and offer kids a chance to interact socially through collaborative problem-solving.
Saul went on to share his three theories about students of different cultures: the East Asian education system takes students to a generally high level of maths; eastern European education places emphasis on driving passion for maths in students; in America, students are encouraged to think outside the box.
During the festival, students work in small groups to complete activities such as solving puzzles. A group of facilitators, which consisted of university graduates of maths and other maths enthusiasts are onsite to provide help when needed. However, students are generally encouraged to think independently, creatively and logically to find solutions.
Eugene Ho, a 13-year-old Singagpore International School S1 student said, “I think it is a fun experience. The activities challenge my brain power.” This is the second time he has participated in this festival.
“This event is about helping children explore maths beyond the textbook, to see maths in everyday life, and inspire them to the see the beauty of maths,” said Bernard Ng, vice principal of Singapore International School.
Festival co-organiser, Jian Shen, said “Maths is everywhere. It’s part of everything we see. The festival helps students with their thought processes to help them see patterns and relationships. The collaborative way in which this is done takes away the pressure to perform well and gives the kids a chance to enjoy the experience.”