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A Math’s Murder Mystery Night from the perspective of a host

Lucas Black, Professional Learning Consultant, reflects on the 2021 Alcoa Real World Maths program.

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It’s another afternoon at an Alcoa Real World Maths school and the hall is setup with puzzles and games. There is an excited buzz in the air as families arrive and look at all the interesting kits around them. Inevitably, the kids are encouraged to explore the floor puzzles and assure parents that it is ok. Before long, the crowd has arrived. Everyone is getting excited about a fun night of maths!

Yes, that’s right, kids and parents are voluntarily coming after school to do maths. You see, one of the greatest outcomes of the program is that students experience being valued as mathematical thinkers rather than having to meet the expectations of being ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ which can be quite stressful.

Many of the students attending the event have already taken part in classroom lessons lead by the participating teachers. They have experienced their teachers saying things like “That’s interesting, tell me more.” or “I like the way you are thinking.” which has increased their confidence and willingness to engage in mathematical discussions, problem-solving and reasoning. They are primed and ready!

Which brings us back to tonight’s mathematical problem-solving. Instructions are given, cheesy jokes are made (because I can’t help myself) and the event is launched. The task, find the Addition Assassin by completing a series of math puzzles to get clues that reveal the traits of the assassin. It’s a bit like Guess Who? but more exciting and with maths!

Throughout the event, I had the pleasure of eves dropping on parents and kids talking about the tasks. The parents facial expressions often show that they are either impressed by their child’s capacity to reason mathematically or terrified because they can’t understand why they, as adults, are struggling while their kids are blitzing it.

You see, the problem-solving approach is a vastly different paradigm compared to the rote learning or procedural based learning the parents most likely received in school. Their children are applying all of their mathematical knowledge and strategies to explore and solve a problem. Their own understanding of the problem gives them confidence in their answer.

Finally, towards the end of the event, kids begin to trickle up to me, eager to share their work and present their findings of ‘Who Dunnit?’ but there is still work to be done. As the Police Chief of the town of Calculia, I will not send an innocent person to jail. So the students have to prove their evidence is well founded. The kids talk me through their thoughts, explain how they found patterns that lead them to conjectures, all while I ask clever questions that support them to justify their reasoning. Every child always has something to say because they have all worked very hard. The suspect’s guilt is finally proven and a token of success, a small badge stating “I found the Addition Assassin”, is awarded. However, the real prize is the sense of accomplishment they have gained and the pride on their parents’ faces.

As the night draws to a close, I have to politely ask parents to take photos of the tasks their kids still want to solve, not because they haven’t finished and caught the suspect, but because they want to keep going anyway. There is always an excited conversation amongst the teachers as they discuss how successful the event is and, usually, there is a tale or two about a student who surprised them with their thinking. This discussion continues as the event is packed away and I often find myself in the carpark of the school, well after school hours, still listening to these passionate and dedicated teachers discussing what they would like to do in their future maths lessons.

As always, the night has been a success. The kids were engaged and resilient. The parents were proud and happy. And the teachers were energized and enthusiastic.

And most of all, people were excited about doing maths, even though it was right after a school day.

Thank you to all the schools that participated in the Alcoa Real World Maths program for 2021. It has been an absolute pleasure to work with you all and meet your community!

All the very best for the school holidays.

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