About 100 kids aged between 4 and 15 from low-income communities in Powai, Mumbai had an unusual weekend. They gathered at IIT Bombay and played games. The interesting part was that they were actually practising maths and enjoying the whole process.
Making learning fun
Flocked around one IIT student each in small groups of 3 to 12, they sat down on the floor and were introduced to about 10 games and puzzles, like:
- If there are 3 switches and 3 light bulbs, but you don’t know which turns on which, in how many attempts can you find out?
- A pile of 8 marbles is lying. You and your friend take turns picking either 1, 2 or 3 marbles from it. If the goal is to be always the last one to empty the pile, would you want to go first or second?
- Can you collaborate with other players to connect all the rivers with maths equations?
- The pirate treasure is at sector 49. Reach there before others do. Add, count and sequence numbers to reach there.
The joy on the faces of these kids was palpable. They would go on and on trying various ways, many a time surprising the IIT students with their ingenuity!
“One group of kids patiently spent 15 minutes getting to the most optimal solution, and the joy on getting it on their faces was out of this world!” recalls Suyash, a final year IIT Bombay student.
“The cookie monster problem I was playing became a lot more fun for them when I used Hindi words like bhooka rakshash (hungry monster). A group of girls really surprised me by solving not only the three jar problem but the most complex seven jar problem!” said Vivek an M.Sc student in Maths department of IIT Bombay.
This event was led by Shreyans Jain, an IIT Bombay student. He reached out to Prof Parag Bhargava who runs libraries for kids of low-income families in Mumbai. Prof Parag gladly agreed for this to be conducted for all his library members at one place. These libraries are community-led, one woman from the community is chosen to be a librarian and goes around encouraging kids from her community to borrow and read books.
Shreyans reached out to Rohit Kumar, another IIT Bombay student. Rohit is associated with Abhyuday, a social organization of students within IIT Bombay. Rohit played a key role in getting his team of volunteers to become game leaders with these kids.
This is not one event alone, the next step is to train the librarians of these communities to make this a permanent feature of these libraries’ Saturday activity period. So that these kids keep playing the games and some of them take up a career in science, technology, engineering or mathematics.
This is a community project is taken up by a group of IIT Bombay alumni and students. The idea is very simple. Anyone can conduct such an event in their apartment complex or neighbourhood for their own kids and that of the others. It just requires one to block 2 hours of one’s weekend, book a room, and send invites to parents of kids around them. The key step is to gather 5 to 10 game leaders. Any adult or even a grade 10th to 12th kid, who loves playing games and enjoys simple maths puzzles would qualify. With 4 to 6 kids per game, 25-50 kids can easily be served well. How to get trained, which games, which puzzles to choose etc. is more or less a solved problem with multiple such events already conducted.
Conceptualisation of the ‘game’
Siddharth Verma, IIT Bombay, 2004 alumnus, whose idea this is, recalls how he was just an average kid in academic terms until grade 5. He loved playing games, like every other kid, but didn’t have any special interest in maths.
“It all changed because of two specific triggers – one teacher who used a pan balance to explain linear equation to me and my friend who played chess with me in the school,” says Siddharth.
“Maths, when seen as abstract algebra, used to scare me, but when visualized in real objects became my friend. And playing chess, solving puzzles with my friends made me fall in love with everything logical – maths, physics and what not.”
“So when on the first day of my Self Expression and Leadership Programme by Landmark, I was requested to declare a community project – Board Games to Master Maths – was a choice that came right from within me.”
Kunal and Gunjan were the very first people Siddharth approached to kick start this community project. His batchmates from IIT Bombay, they are co-founders of Logic Roots, a company that creates social maths games for kids.
Kunal says, “We all know exercising is good for us. But we hardly ever work out even if we have access to a good gym. But if friends join us, workouts become fun. It’s the same with Maths”
“Instead of pushing kids into a room to practice maths sums, Logic Roots believes in making maths social. Get friends and family together over a fun game. Maths will happen on its own.”
Parul Mittal, an alumnus of IIT Delhi, has been associated with Julia Robinson Mathematics Festival for past three years. She helped hand-pick puzzles for different age groups, from JRMF collection which is designed for kids by some of the best mathematicians in the world.
Parul is passionate about math and problem-solving. Along with facilitating Math Festivals in India, she also runs mathematical thinking classes for school kids.
Siddharth, Kunal, Gunjan, Parul, Shreyans and their ever-growing team of volunteers are always ready to support anyone who wishes to replicate these events in their neighbourhood or simply for their own kids. Please write to them at [email protected] and witness the magic unfold when kids who may or may not otherwise like maths, simply fall in love with it. And don’t forget to subscribe to news and pictures about all these and future events by liking the Facebook page of “Board Games to Master Maths”