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Fantastic beasts bust maths myths

South Island students are discovering a scaled, fire-breathing version of maths.

Close-up of cards

Maths is sometimes thought of as dry and lacking in imagination, but a new project called Rich Maths reveals this idea to be as mythical as dragons.

Nicola ‘Dr Nic’ Petty and colleague Shane Dye from Statistics Learning Centre are using specially-created dragon cards to show  primary and intermediate schoolkids in the South Island how maths is everywhere - and actually fun.

Playing the connectors game

These Dragonistic Data Cards were designed by Nicola’s son William Petty and his wife Jessica, a graphic designer and illustrator respectively, to show mathematical relationships between different types of dragons.

A dragon can be bigger, smaller or the same size as another, for example. Other traits are colour (red and green), gender (male and female), age and behaviour (friendly or dangerous) and whether they can breathe fire.

There are lots of different card designs and lots of different games that users can play.

One game is similar to dominoes, in which the numbers must match when connecting tiles end-to-end.

“We have to connect the next card by seeing which cards are similar or different from the first card,” explains nine-year-old Jimmy from Ladbrooks School in Christchurch.

“The ‘connectors’ [tiles laid down in between cards] tell us what to do.”

Classmate Charli, 9, adds, “I played a game where we had to ‘push’ boulders on a board. You put down cards in the ‘path’ to the boulder, and the numbers on the cards must add up to the number on the boulder”.

Playing the boulders game

The Ladbrooks School students played these games as part of their in-class visit from Rich Maths.

“I really like how these cards are great for any age,” says teacher Ali Duncan. “It doesn’t matter if they’re as young as six or as old as ten, they all get something out of it.”

After the students had played these games, they had a chance to invent their own using the same cards and gaming boards, plus a few extra props.

"I liked making our game, says Julia, 9. “Every player gets 3 cards each and some coins, then we all go round two boards and pick up a new card when it’s our turn. If you put the wrong card down, or can’t put one down, you lose a coin. The winner has the most coins and the least cards."

Playing games

Do these games translate in the real world? And if so, how?

Nicola says they definitely do, and explains that this is because they help the kids to develop mathematical thinking – which is far more than an ability to do calculations.

“Website and app coding has the same ‘rules’ the kids use with the dragon cards: ‘if it is X then do Y’. As does engineering, digital design and heaps of other professions,” she says.

Putting the cards on a relationship chart  Playing with tiles and coins

Nicola and Shane also helped the students explore the question ‘what do mathematicians do?’ with some myth-busting statements like ‘mathematicians have fun’ and ‘mathematicians make mistakes and learn’. The take-home message was that mathematicians are just regular people too, and that anyone can become one.

Eight-year-old Charlotte says, “I loved doing everything! I thought they were just going to do the times table but they didn't! I definitely want to do maths when I'm older.”

Casey, 9, adds, “I didn't like maths before, but now I really do!”

Rich Maths

Students at Ladbrooks School in Christchurch discover what it means to be a mathematician.

Read more about the project on the Statistics Learning Centre website

Watch Nicola and Shane’s YouTube channel, which explains maths in animations

About the Project

SLC logo
Rich Maths
is run by Statistics Learning Centre with support from the Unlocking Curious Minds contestable fund.



Unlocking Curious Minds

Unlocking Curious Minds supports projects that excite and engage New Zealanders who have fewer opportunities to experience and connect with science and technology.

Find out more

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