American mathematician, William Thurston, said: "The real satisfaction from mathematics is in learning from others and sharing with others". That’s what Year 7 and 8 students from Catholic secondary schools across the Diocese experienced at the recent Stage 4 Mathematics Enrichment Days.
Around 30 students from each of our systemic secondary schools attended the events - St Joseph’s, Albion Park; Corpus Christi, Oak Flats; St John the Evangelist, Nowra; and Holy Spirit, Bellambi gathered at the University of Wollongong (UOW), while St Benedict’s, Oran Park; John Therry, Rosemeadow; Magdalene, Narellan; Mt Carmel, Varroville; and St Francis, Edmondson Park converged on Western Sydney University (WSU).
Both days commenced with a presentation by a university academic, promoting the importance of engaging in maths and other STEM-related courses. Dr Glen Wheeler, a mathematician from UOW’s Faculty of Engineering and Information Science, shared with the students the potential of mathematics and the range of careers that his graduates had gone on to pursue. Dr Maree Skillen from WSU’s School of Education also connected well with the group, challenging them to think about how maths could be a part of their university studies.
The students found great value in these presentations, especially listening to the examples and stories of university graduates in the STEM space.
“I really enjoyed the lecture session,” Madeline from St John’s, Nowra said, “It was good to hear about other people’s successes. I learned that there’s a lot more opportunities from doing maths than you’d think.”
Hear students’ thoughts on the presentations and what they learned here:
Following this, the students divided into two groups - a mix from every school in each - to participate in two activities:
OPEN-ENDED MATHEMATICAL PROBLEM-SOLVING
This activity involved students collaborating with each other to solve open-ended mathematical problems. They learned how to better think and work like mathematicians and further develop the attributes they need to solve such challenging questions.
The students then had the opportunity to present their reasoning and justifications for their solutions to the larger cohort. A key part of the exercise was encouraging the group to find multiple ways to solve all the problems and communicate their thinking on each.
St Joseph’s Albion Park student, Chloe, delighted in the challenge: “We had 11 questions to try and figure out. I learned different ways of thinking mathematically and working out problems, and to use different techniques rather than sticking to the ones I’m used to. I enjoyed working as a team with different people and looking at questions I wouldn’t normally be given in class.”
Jackson from Holy Spirit said he particularly liked “working as a team, trying to answer the many challenging questions. I’ve learned how to do my work more efficiently and with the simplest methods.”
Hear from students about the open-ended mathematical problem-solving activity here...
STEM CATAPULT CHALLENGE
The STEM session involved students working together in small groups to complete a series of tasks that required computational thinking to solve. This culminated in earning materials to make a catapult that could launch a marshmallow the farthest distance. It prompted students to work out how to maximise their individual and group potential, while drawing on their skills in budgeting, strategic and design thinking.
The activity appealed to many students, for the hands-on learning experience as well as the opportunity to solve problems that put mathematics into a real life context.
“I learned more collaborative skills and working together with other people by using my ideas and their ideas and mixing them together to get the best solution,” Ruby from Corpus Christi said.
“Maths is a large part of our lives - both in school and out of school - so we need to know how to work things out. I think this day has really helped with understanding all that and enabling me to do maths better.”
Hear from students about the STEM catapult activity here...
Lavinia from St Benedict’s recognised the great exposure to many different perspectives that the day offered: “I really enjoyed understanding more from people that I haven’t worked with before….also then thinking from angles that I’ve never really thought from before.”
Mt Carmel student, Timara, agreed and echoed many students’ sentiments: “I liked working in teams with people from other schools. We learned a lot that way. It was also a great opportunity to put the skills we’ve learned in class to the test.”
The students - over a hundred at each day - left feeling empowered by their learning and with an understanding of how they individually best grasped maths and solved problems. Inspired by the enrichment activities, many were keen to offer suggestions on what they’d consider an ideal maths lesson.
Hear the students’ ideas about their ideal maths class here...
Thanks to CEDoW Secondary Education Officer, Gerry Sozio, on his efforts in organising these Mathematics Enrichment Days for our Diocese’s Stage 4 students, and to Learning Technology Officers, Mark Woolley and Ben Woods, and Education Officer, Paul Hughes, on helping facilitate the activities at both universities.
As heard from the students, the days were a great opportunity for them to engage in challenging mathematics and better appreciate the benefits of incorporating STEM-related courses into their future studies.