Andrew’s personal story demonstrates how a creative teacher can motivate student learning in maths. Maths can be fun. All we need is someone to show us that maths is not for the few “gifted” ones, maths is for everyone.

Anybody can do well in math if they have a teacher to make it fun.

In April of 2019 I started working as a teaching assistant to help teach kids maths at an independent secondary school in the Western Cape. Originally, I just went there to help one specific kid, a 4^{th} grader who had exceptional mental math abilities but due to his ADHD had difficulty focusing on the work before of him especially if there were word problems.

He’d do well for about 20 minutes and then he’d be unable to focus after that so I came up with a way to effectively reset his focus, his main problem was the work was static and nothing moved so his concentration drifted so I grabbed a set of playing cards and said “I’ll flip two cards over and I want you to multiply them together then we’ll see how many you can get in a minute.” Every time I would put down the next two cards on top of the previous ones. This constant movement helped the student to stay focussed. I always made sure to keep track of his score, so he knew his abilities were improving but all he saw was his own score nothing to compare it with, which is rarely as effective as competition. Thankfully he had siblings who attended the school, and they were interested in playing the game. Now it was bragging rights among siblings which made the game way more interesting. Next, their friends joined, and the friends of their friends joined about 3 months later. I asked permission from the principle to play the game with every student of the school once per week so long as I made sure it wouldn’t disrupt the normal learning process because it’s just one to two minutes of a day for the individual student. The principal, having seen the improved abilities among those who I had worked with, agreed. From grade 4 up to grade 12, about 100 students in total. Some kids thought it ridiculous and a waste of time, others found it very fun so I made a deal with them; if any student grade 4 or 5 got 20 cards once they didn’t have to do it again for the remainder of the term, grade 6 to 8 had to get 26 and grade 9 to 12 had to get 30. However, if they still wanted to play that was fine. If any of them got 40, regardless of their grade, I would buy them an 80g chocolate that they got to choose – only available once per month per student – and whichever student had the highest score among grade 4 to 5, 6 to 8, 9 to 12 over the course of an entire term got another chocolate as well. I was not prepared for the number of chocolates I’d have to buy, nor the level of competition this would create. The students in turn were surprised by my leniency, any time they’d been stuck on a question for 5 seconds I’d stop the clock and explain a trick for the multiplication: stuck on a 9 times table use your fingers, a 12 break it into a 10 and 2 then add them stuck on 13*11 look at 5*7 it’s 35 1 less than 6*6 3*5=15 1 less than 4*4 so 13*11 will be 1 less than 12*12, this was always hilarious when they then learnt (x+1)(x-1)=(x^2-1) was the reason for this pattern. What I had done was take the multiplication tables that we’re taught in primary school, and I added incentives. This might seem unimportant in the grand scheme of learning maths, but the difference is that the kids looked forward to it and that was my goal. Make the kids view maths as something to look forward to not something you have to do.

As a result, the average ability to do maths went up among all the students, even the 12^{th} grade students despite most of the new concepts having very little to do with multiplication. I believe this is because any of the multiplication needed for the problems was no longer something they needed to focus on and so they could concentrate on the new portions of the work alone instead of needing to stop for a calculation along the way and it was a challenge instead of something they had to do. All that was needed was someone willing to teach them, be patient instead of harsh and a bit of chocolate.

In 2020 I was hired by the school instead of just volunteering, but at that point I’d already been helping any of the kids who were struggling with their problems for about 3 months, so nothing changed aside from needing to go get a tax number, that was a mission and a half, but I finished it. Over the next 2 years I taught many kids at this school, and I noticed the following; some of the kids coming to me for help instead of their teacher, a continued increase in most of their scores at the game, and those scores being a point of pride just as much as getting a higher score on a test.

Maths is something everyone can enjoy if it’s presented to them as something fun, something that anyone can be good at, not just those who are really gifted. For these students it started by making it a game to play and see if they could get the answer faster than anyone else, for others it was fun facts like the formula for area being discovered so people would pay the right amount of taxes. Anyone can learn to love maths, as long as there is someone willing to slowly teach them. To reiterate the title Maths is for everyone, now we just need to convince those who don’t believe it.

### Andrew Hearne

2nd year mathematics BSc student, Stellenbosch University