Day 3: 8th Jan 2013
The day started with a few students’ presentations followed by the much awaited Final Quiz. Sixteen finalists from the written test paper on Mathematics (which happened the earlier day) were selected and formed into four teams. The rules were explained to all the team members by the Quiz Master – Sadagopan Rajesh, who happened to be a trainer for Olympiad kind of exams. The quiz was very well-organized and conducted by him. Once I started seeing the questions, I was glad that I wasn’t selected for the finals or else my team would have got almost zero contribution from me. The questions were very tough and the maximum time to think was 45 seconds where they got questions like – If you add 2 at the beginning and at the end of a natural number and subtract it from the original number, then you will get the difference as 2317. Find the number. Another question was – ‘n’ is a natural number such that 2^n divides 2013! (2013 factorial) exactly. What is the hightest power of ‘n’? And the answer was 2004, i.e., 2^2004 divided 2013! exactly. I had no clue how the kids got the answer in JUST 45 SECONDS!!!!!!!!!
Everyone enjoyed the quiz. The following session was Prof. Narasinga Rao Memorial Lecture to be given by a very renowned mathematician and Mathematics teacher, Prof. Chukka Ramaiah. Prof. Narasinga Rao was a very learned mathematics teacher who did research in Number Systems and made enormous contributions in the field of mathematics teaching. This 85 year-old man’s (Prof. Ramaiah) standing 90-minute talk moved the audience. He spoke in such a humble manner that it touched everybody’s heart. He emphasized both on Mathematics and how the attitude of teachers should be. He also shared how Mathematics is taught in countries like Singapore where they could teach concepts of Algebra in second standard. Their teaching techniques are far advanced while we still walk by the old road without much innovative ways of teaching. He also said that mathematical geniuses are coming out from small countries like North Korea, Vietnam, etc. but we, even though being such a big nation, are not able to nurture much mathematical talents. The primary reason what he said (which appealed to me very much) was that we teachers ourselves are not much motivated, then how can we motivate children? A teacher’s job is not a salaried labourer’s job. It is even more respected than a doctor or a soldier’s job. What struck to me was his words – ‘It is not the answer that is important, but the process’. How true! And today everybody is running after marks. A child is judged by the marks he gets and not the concepts he knows. He also remarked that all Guides and Digests should be banned by the Govt. because that is not the right way to learn. Learning should happen from thinking and not from copying down the solution. A child might come up with a better solution that what is taught to him. But how can thinking happen if the solutions are given readymade? Hence, we all should pressurize the Govt. to ban all such books which give out solutions readymade. He also spoke about how question papers are set these days. All the questions are taken from the textbook or from previous years’ question papers. What are we ultimately giving to our children? Is that really an exam? In one of the states in India, the Govt. had declared that the progress of a teacher will be judged by the scoring of his students. So, there came teachers who taught children ‘how to score in exams’ and not how to gain knowledge. How pathetic! How do we expect our country to progress if our prime focus is on getting marks instead of gaining knowledge?
To teach a child, many a times it calls for going down to his level. He gave a very good example which he used to teach the concept of Mathematical Limits when children found it difficult. He said, “A movie actress told the director that I will act in your movie only on one condition: Nobody should touch my body. And there was a kissing scene in the movie. So, the actor and the cameraman had to take the shot in such a way that both the actor’s and the actress’ faces came very near but the lips never touched. That is how a Limit in Mathematics is!” The audience burst into laughter. He continued, “Don’t think that why this old man is coming here and saying such things to the young audience. If you have to teach something to a teenager, try getting down to their level and see how fast they pick up the concept. I could see no better example to explain the concept of Limits to a 11th grader.
He also added that we should give the children an opportunity to come up with new questions. A person who is able to ‘spit questions’, he can have a Creative Thinking, which is very important in Mathematics. From the question that we pose to the students, they should be able to come up with more doubts and form more questions. One should also see to it that in a child a Critical Thinking is also inculcated. These qualities of Creative and Critical Thinking, can go a long way in Mathematics. He also requested bodies like AMTI to reach out to Govt. schools where the talents are not much recognized. All these students who had come for the National Seminar were from well-to-do schools and that’s not where the majority of students lie.
His talk was equally inspiring for the mixed age group in the audience and the applause after his talk lasted for a long time. One could see how much he was involved in his talk and how the words were coming out of his heart. He belonged to a rare class of teachers who could teach any student right from primary to University students. I saluted him from the bottom of my heart! I took the opportunity to follow him after the talk and present him a copy of my book – The Teacher Who Taught Us To Think that I had written about my Mathematics teacher. He was happy to know about the content of the book and gave a small pat on my face. It was a great feeling to have got even a touch of such a great teacher!
We all went to have lunch and came back to the hall for a ‘Short-Talk’ session where anyone could speak about the programme or anything on Mathematics, for 3-5 minutes. I took that opportunity to share couple of my thoughts. One – to have an Olympiad kind of test, like the one we had the previous day, for teachers so that we can equip ourselves with better thinking and facilitate better teaching to our students. Second – few students who presented papers were not trained properly. In the sense, they were just reading out from the PPT and some ones not even looking at the audience. The teachers could have given them rehearsals earlier so that they could feel more confident on the stage. But otherwise, the kids did a superb job which was beyond our expectations.
During the valedictory function, Prof. Mahadevan, one of the core Committee members of AMTI, expressed his sincere thanks to the Sri Prakash Synergy school for extending their support and appraisable hospitality. In fact, the teachers and students of the school were having holidays during this time of the year but all of them were volunteering for the event, with a BIG smile and lovingly they were doing their assigned jobs. Usually, employees of any organization start cribbing when they are called to work even for a weekend. Whereas these guys had taken atleast 5 days off their vacation to volunteer for the Conference. The children of the school were really sweet. They would greet every delegate with a Namaste and folded hands. That showed the culture they get from their school. The vision of the school was – Indian roots, International standards. Truly they were living upto that with respect to the values inculcated and infrastructure provided to the students.
After the valedictory, everybody started moving to their rooms or leaving to catch their trains. I had enough time since my train was at midnight. I was back in my room where I sat to pen down my thoughts while it was fresh in my mind.
This National conference of Association of Mathematics Teachers of India was overall a great experience for me. It gave me opportunities to meet a lot of teachers, retired teachers, mathematicians, talented students from different parts of the country and few researchers. It gave a forum to discuss various mathematical ideas with scholars on the subject. The exhibits and paper presentations by the students gave me more ideas of how the same thing can be organized in my town atleast in a small level. The students who came could also learn a lot of things from the Conference. There were a lot of books on Mathematics kept for sale. The reason I thought of penning down this experience is that atleast the people who read it might know some student, teacher or parent who could possibly expose their child to such events which are really great opportunities for them to learn. Let us be instruments in facilitating growth of children in whichever possible way.