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Mathematics has the power to change lives. We take this phrase very seriously and don’t just see it as a “fun” slogan that has been designed to propel ones learning. We base our entire way of educating processes on this phrase and this has propelled us into our very first Maths Talent Development Conference for Grade 7, 2019. 

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To understand what we were getting the Grade 7 learners into, we had to first change the way they see mathematics. We spent the good part of the first term moulding this new mindset.

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To believe in this new mindset you have to believe that mathematics is not about understanding numbers, rules, algorithms and formulas. It’s not a mundane pencil to paper exercise where regurgitation takes preference over discovery. It’s not a subject that only some “gifted” learners can excel at either (contrary to popular belief). Mathematics is for everyone.

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The topic of focus was one of the “exponentially” larger sections that we learn in Term 1: Exponents. This section usually takes a while to cement itself into the grey matter and we as educators wanted to ignite a spark and excite a new neural pathway into the brain. We birthed the idea of a conference where we could teach 120 learners at the same time in groups of 10, with 10 brains, 10 personalities, 10 different ideas, 10 voices and 10 potential leaders that equal to 1 000 000 possibilities. The power of exponential thinking. 

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The students had to solve a math equation, using exponents, to create a random group. That group would then have to work together for the next hour. They were provided with 3 large sheets of A2 paper, pens and a plastic cup (The importance of which they would only find out at the end). These A2 pages were to become their living creative and innovative manifestos. There was to be no-space-spared in the pursuit of exponential knowledge. 

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The grade 7s were tested on concrete and abstract thinking, seeing and researching different career scenarios and working together as a team. Each task was timed and put the learners under enough creative pressure that it never filtered into idle-teaching time. Our Grade 7 staff were on hand, working their way through each table, picking and adding small pieces of paper from the groups plastic cup. This was in fact, points being added and deducted to the tables overall performance. This performance was not based just on knowledge and correct answering of questions. We encourage full participation regardless of the outcome, as it is through failure and discovery that we begin to change who we are. Thus, every group members participation, their work ethic, their ability to work together, their levels of excitement, their creative ideas and their colourful manifestos were being assessed.

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The final task was to add up the points inside your cup. The points were hidden within exponent equations and the group had to create their own equation that would give them the most points. This final equation would be the points we would tally, alongside the living manifesto that the learners had created. We decided to only tell them about the prize and the points at the end because we wanted internal motivators to be at play, as that has a longer lasting impact on a learners ability to overcome difficulties. The winning group would receive the grand prize of “P to the power of 3”, which is Pizza, Pepsi and Pool. 

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One of the best feelings as an educator was seeing the eyes and the excitement of learners who rarely excel behind a desk, come out of their shell and perform. We hope to have more of these in the future and create more of our own class lessons based around this concept. 

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