Math can be a game!

School kids learn how scientists think

October 27, 2010

The fact that mathematics can be fun, fascinating and full of surprises, and that the phrase “fascination for research” especially applies to mathematics, is hard for a lot of school students to understand. Scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics (Albert Einstein Institute/AEI) in Potsdam and the University of Siegen together with the Netzwerkbüro Schule – Hochschule der Deutschen Mathematiker-Vereinigung have therefore now set out to prove just that: The new mathematics learning game called “modulis” is intended to provide 5th and 6th graders in future with firsthand experience to understand that mathematics is something deeply human and something which can be used to describe just about anything: one of the fundamentals of our contemporary society.

The game modulis will be presented for the first time at a seminar for teachers, student teachers and pupils on Saturday, 30 October 2010 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Institute of Mathematics of the Technische Universität Berlin, Straße des 17. Juni 136, 10623 Berlin.

After prior registration with Dr. Elke Müller, you are warmly invited to attend the seminar and the briefings. 

The game

modulis is intended to introduce 10 to 12 year olds in a playful way to scientific-mathematical thinking and to show why we need mathematics in order to better understand our environment and even our world. In addition, the players will learn that mathematics is not something “completed” or written in stone, but a dynamic and everyday science that is constantly being further developed by people.

With modulis, teams enter into competition against each other in various categories - on a specially developed board with playing pieces representing mathematicians and colourful cards, with questions and answers, with humour and with explanations by the players themselves. Questions include for example: “Since when do people know the number zero? Is there a greatest number? Which geometric forms are used for street signs?”

When children must explain ‘invert value’ or ‘fractions’ to their team in pantomime, they begin to lose their timidity towards mathematics on their own. Verbal explanatory exercises are aimed at putting into practice the correct use of mathematical technical terms in a somewhat unusual way. In the process, the children receive direct feedback from their fellow players concerning the usefulness of their attempts at explaining. In this way, they improve as well their self-expression and gain more confidence in their own discernment.

Of particular importance, however, is that the children can play the game without any kind of major prior mathematical knowledge and can rely on their own curiosity and fantasy. Teachers and pupils can even develop their own tasks for the game and then put them into practice.

The development of the game modulis is headed by Carla Cederbaum and Dr. Elke Müller (Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics) as part of research communication activities. They were awarded in 2009 with the “Wissenschaft interaktiv” prize from the Stifterverband für die deutsche Wissenschaft. Henrike Allmendinger (Dipl. math., University of Siegen) also worked on the conception of the game. She is accompanying the first phase of game development especially with her mathematic-didactic expertise. The Netzwerkbüro Schule - Hochschule der Deutschen Mathematiker-Vereinigung is providing support for the project.

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