Maths Fest 2013

Back in April I was asked to speak at the Irish Mathematics Teachers Association conference which was to take place on Saturday 12th October.  Before I had a chance to talk myself out of it I agreed.  After all it was six months away, I’d have plenty of time to gather my thoughts and it would all be fine in the end wouldn’t it?  Natalie Noone, the National Treasurer of the organisation and the conference organiser mentioned CoderDojo when she asked me to speak so I decided to tie in a few strands that have been blowing in the wind for the past while.  As some of you may know, I completed a Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) module earlier this year where we looked at Learning Theories.  I was very taken by Seymour Papert’s Constructionist Theory , which contends that learning happens most effectively when people construct personally meaningful artefacts.  This is something I see happening at CoderDojo as children and teens learn to code prompted by a desire to create games etc. of interest to them.  This is something I have been keen to bring to my own teaching so my final assessment for the TEL module saw me looking at Robocode, a programming environment which allows the coding of virtual tanks which can then do battle.  I decided to tie the three strands together in my MathsFest presentation.

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Fast forward to Friday October 11th and I find myself at the pre-conference banquet, chatting to some of the other presenters, attendees and exhinitors.  It was a lovely, laid back evening, a perfect pre-cursor to the very busy day ahead.  Natalie and the rest of the team had put together a great programme with a a wide variety of topics and presenters – the only problem was only being able to choose one presentation in each slot!  I was lucky to have my slot on in the morning session as I was nervous about how it would go.  My presentation had come together in a way that I was happy with, but I couldn’t help but be nervous, as my first trip to MathsFest had me speaking there, so I wasn’t sure if I’d pitched it correctly.   In the first time slot I went between two sessions – Catherine Kierans Autograph demonstration and Dr. Maria Meehan’s talk on  research about promoting conceptual understanding in the Maths classroom.  Catherine’s session was very hands on and practical and Maria’s session provided plenty of food for thought.  I particularly loved the idea of ‘convince yourself, convince a friend, convince an enemy’.  Next up was my session on ‘Coderdojo, Constructionism and Maths’.  My presentation can be found here.   Next up for me was Dr. Ailish Hannigan’s session on mathematical thinking vs. statistical thinking.   It’s interesting that traditionally strong maths students may struggle with statistical thinking and vice versa.  I’ve often seen this as students who may struggle in other areas of Maths have a keen intuition when it comes to Statistics.  The other takeaway from Ailish’s talk was the importance of getting students to collect their own data.

Next up was lunch and it was lovely to catch up with Paudie Scanlon (the driving force behind the Irish Maths Teachers Google+ community).   After lunch I found myself in James Grime’s talk on Alan Turing and the Enigma Machine.  As we started to look at some of the most basic cipher systems, I was transported back more than a  few years as my undergrad final year thesis was on the subject of the Playfair Cipher system.  James’s entertaining talk has rekindled a latent interest that I’m looking forward to developing.

The Enigma Machine at Maths Fest

The Enigma Machine at Maths Fest

The next session found me in Audrey Byrne’s talk on Digital Literacies.  Her research on the topic with 15-17 year olds offered many insights which again illustrates the point that


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The really key point of Audrey’s talk was the need to listen to what students have to say, as opposed to thinking we know what they want and what works for them.

The final session of a busy day can be hard to present at but I have to say that Dr. Julie O’Donovan’s ‘Tale about functions’ was the perfect end to what was a very enjoyable day.  I loved the fact that we were greeted with the question

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on entering the room.  It was refreshing to see functions front an centre like that 🙂

I wondered about how much there would be from me at a conference aimed at second level Maths teachers but I needn’t have worried.  There was plenty of food for thought for anyone involved in teaching Maths, regardless of the level.  Well done to Natalie Noone, the dynamo behind MathsFest, and her team.  I’m already looking forward to MathsFest 2014 🙂

Check out some of the tweets from Mathsfest here.   I’m hoping that there will be more tweeting Maths teachers at MathsFest 2014.


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