The Mathematics Maze {From Phobia to Fun}

May 02, 2012, 08:00 IST | Soma Das

It's vacation time for most school and college-going students, but many of this ilk (and grown-ups too) are making a beeline for supplementary Mathematics classes to tackle the big M. For this breed, gripped by the dreaded Arithmophobia (fear of Mathematics), there is hope... with help from the subject itself

If Mathematics was the bane of your existence as a school-going kid, chances are the reason was your teacher, according to home tutor Sundari Venkat. She would know. After all, Venkat has been teaching the subject from her residence in Sion, for over three decades. She is one among the increasing band of teachers who supplement their regular Mathematics tutorials with sessions of Vedic Maths and Abacus.

Illustration/ Amit Bandre

Another teacher is Goregaon-based Namrata Chandruva, who recently conducted a Magic Methods of Maths workshop in the city. “In over six sessions, I teach students certain shortcuts which will benefit them throughout life, increasing their speed of tackling the subject along with the accuracy of solving mathematical problems,” she explains.

Some of the methods she follows are centered around Vedic Maths as well as other techniques developed by Chandruva herself that she teaches with the help of puzzles and interactive games.

“Vedic Maths helps boost the speed of mental calculation and makes you 8 to 10 times faster,” adds Chandruva, who teaches students from the 4th to the 12th standards. She keeps abreast with new developments by attending Mathematics seminars, and browsing books as well as the Internet.

Number crunch
“At the end of the day, such methods are helpful throughout life,” she maintains. Perhaps, this explains why she has working professionals as students (including Chartered Accountants and teachers) who re-learn Mathematics via such methods.

For Mathematics home tutor Sundari Venkat, numbers have been an abiding passion that she is trying to pass on to the next generation. She teaches Vedic Maths techniques to help her students grasp concepts of the curriculum. “While the abacus is very popular, the State (Maharashtra) board doesn’t emphasise much on arithmetic so students are unable to apply it to a greater extent, and it is soon out of use,” she reasons.

Venkat teaches her students basic shortcuts that save time and help in multiplication, division and in doing fractions. “The Vedic method is scientific and helps you do foolproof calculations.

While schools don’t insist on knowledge of Vedic Maths, it helps students get better at the subject and enjoy it, eventually,” she assures us. She admits that the challenges are many especially at a time when people rely on calculators and cell phones for basic calculations: “But since at the end of the day you cannot use a calculator in the examination hall, you become handicapped and it comes back to these techniques.”

Among Venkat’s many school and college students, she also gets the odd Law graduate who joins to re-learn the dreaded subject along with candidates appearing for competitive exams.

Boost brain capacity
Mulund-based Horizon — The Brain Development Academy teaches children mental arithmetic, Vedic Maths, and Japanese abacus among other topics and have seen a great response for their batches.

“While Vedic Maths helps the children answer faster and boasts of simple methods, the Japanese abacus builds concentration, helps students grasp the concept and think deeper; its akin to meditation and helps the students shift their focus inward,” explains Nanda Sanjay Dolas, in-charge of teacher’s training at Horizon.

She cites that scientific studies done with children who use an abacus daily prove that engaging the fingers stimulates nerve endings and neurons that go to the brain directly , thereby increasing circulation and improving the functioning of the brain, by up to
five percent.

Rid the phobia
For many Mathematics teachers, the actual process of teaching begins once they tackle the fear of the students for the subject. Being a teacher has many shades of being a shrink, observes Venkat.

“You have to make the student stop negative reinforcement where they keep thinking — “I hate Mathematics”. It’s probably because they don’t understand the subject and its nuances. The teacher has a large role to play to ensure whether the student likes the subject or not. The goal is to make the student think and understand the subject and its many possibilities and not blindly imitate or follow anything,” she rues.

As part of her job, she ensures the kids do not try to learn the subject by rote. “I play around with numbers and questions during weekly tests. It helps figure out who has really understood the concept.”

Adds Chandruva, “The key lies in making the student understand that numbers are not the enemy. That is possible by teaching them simple methods, permutations and making them practice more. Once they improve their calculating speed they get a confidence boost; the fear is gone and they enjoy the subject.”

Go Figure!
Abacus: The abacus, which uses a counting frame, was used mostly in Asia for arithmetic calculations. While modern abacuses use a wooden frame with beads, originally stones and beans were also used instead of beads and metallic and stone frames were used.

The term Abacus is derived from the Hebrew word ‘ibeq’, which means to wipe the dust or from the Greek ‘abax’, meaning board covered with dust. The terms describe the early calculating devices created and used by the Babylonians. The Chinese version was the speediest way to do sums for centuries and, in the right hands, it is believed to still be able to outpace electronic calculators.

Vedic Maths: It is an ancient system of Indian mathematics originating from the Vedas. It relies on 16 basic sutras that were presented by scholar and mathematician Bharati Krishna Tirthaji Maharaja, between 1911 and 1918. The method enables students to solve larger sums in a very short period of time using mental calculations; it also encourages innovation.

Ditch Angry Birds, play these online Mathematics games — for free!
Using sailboats, jet ski chases and penguin jumps, they help you hone your addition, subtraction, fraction, and ratios.

It helps children learn Maths through quizzes and activities such as colouring an umbrella and serving pizza slices.

This colourful site has you play games like Math Mahjong, pop balloons, shoot fruits, catch stars and drive a bus to learn all about decimals, fractions, measurement, etc.  

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