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The beautiful subject of maths

Problem solvers: Somersfield Academy students Thibaut Stefani, left, and Neil Varwankar

With the upcoming launch of the International Baccalaureate Diploma programme in September 2019, Mathematics at Somersfield Academy has never been more exciting.

The mathematics department has three teachers all well versed in delivering the programme, having taught in international schools worldwide.

They have been working to ensure every student is prepared and has the necessary problem- solving skills to meet the challenges ahead.

Somersfield Academy is unique to Bermuda because it offers the International Baccalaureate Middle Years Programme as the preceding course to the Diploma programme.

The MYP is a five-year programme (ages 11-16) designed by the IB to be the ideal preparation for students who go on to undertake the Diploma Programme.

The MYP assesses students based on four criteria:

• Knowledge and understanding

• Patterns and investigation

• Communication

• Applying mathematics in real-life contexts

Students have remarked that being assessed under the four criteria gives them a different perspective to their maths.

M4 student Thibaut Stefani said: “Maths isn’t only about getting the right answer, but it becomes a much more global subject where complex reasoning and connections between the classroom and the real world must be made.”

Students have quickly come to realise that maths is no longer about getting a correct answer as in a traditional maths class, but is about being faced with a real-life challenge and being able to apply their knowledge and skills to not only find a correct solution but also to be able to communicate it appropriately.

This is why MYP is the perfect choice for students wanting to take the diploma programme. MYP is externally assessed by the IB in M5 (age 16).

Like the Diploma programme, students gain a level from 1 to 7 with a 7 being the highest achievement.

To help prepare for the MYP, students have the option to undertake mathematics contests throughout the year.

More than 30 Somersfield students took part in the worldwide Caribou Mathematics Contest, with a number of students achieving in the top 5 per cent in the world.

Neil Varwandkar and Thibaut Stefani were awarded certificates of distinction for placing highly in the University of Waterloo’s Canadian Intermediate Mathematics Challenge.

Thibaut also won a medal for coming first overall in the school.

Somersfield is also excited to be launching the Canadian Mathematics Team contest in May.

All high schools on the island have been invited to participate. The aim of the contest is to promote the learning and enjoyment of mathematics.

We are confident that students will enjoy the problems and competition it brings.

We spoke to Neil and Thibaut to get their views on mathematics and the MYP.

Do you find mathematics easy?

(Thibaut) Maths isn’t always easy because it is a broad topic. No one can expect to be exceptional at algebra, geography, mental maths and problem solving at the same time because each of those topics have many subcategories.

It is impossible to master every mathematical concept in one life. When maths is hard and seems incomprehensible, it is frustrating because the fundamental of maths is understanding and sometimes you just don’t understand it.

When I was younger, I had many troubles with maths, but working hard can always make the difference.

With my dad, I work after school. I started to enjoy mathematics because understanding one small concept in maths can make many others easier.

Looking for mathematical patterns is what I am finding to be the most interesting thing in maths class.

What would you like to do when you leave school?

(Neil) Although I do not want to become the greatest mathematician of all time (as a full-time job, although it would be a great hobby) or become a maths teacher, I would still like to do something that has some components of maths.

My main goal is to become a programmer and to learn computer science. Both of those require some skill in maths, so I would still be involved with maths in some way.

This shows that even though I do not want to specifically be a maths teacher or be in the mathematical field, I still will be involved with it in some ways. Speaking of maths in the real world, you may not see it but you often use it.

Why is learning mathematics important?

(Thibaut) Maths is the foundation of the reasoning behind all subjects: sciences, languages, history and geography, arts, design and technologies, and sports.

In some way or another, maths is connected to all those subjects. For example, music is an application of maths in terms of the length of each beat in a measure.

In addition, maths concepts are used in daily-life situations, such as estimating the total price of different articles bought at a store.

Maths can indirectly help in other situations where critical-thinking skills are needed. In each mathematical problem, there is always different ways to approach it.

The only limiting factor of the approach is that the reasoning must make sense. Maths is not only about knowing how to solve a set of operation given, but it is also about choosing the correct set of operation to solve a given problem, even in unfamiliar situations.

This critical reasoning is applied in familiar and unfamiliar situations to make right choices. Maths is so enjoyable because of the importance of this rational reasoning.

What makes learning mathematics at Somersfield so enjoyable?

(Neil) One of the reasons that maths at Somersfield is so good is because it is very diverse. In most maths classes there is just a right and wrong answer, accompanied by how to do it and formulas. If you write down the wrong answer after all your hard work, well too bad. WRONG!

However, here we would get some credit for doing all of the work and having our method correct. There are also multiple ways in which we have to do maths.

(Thibaut) Teachers at Somersfield also encourage students to take part in maths outside of class.

Every week, maths problems from the University of Waterloo for all grade levels are posted in the hallways of the school. Those problems need great critical-thinking skills to be solved as well as strong mathematical skills.

In addition, the teachers offer opportunities to take part in world contests.

The contests, throughout the year, make the students use the mathematical reasoning and concepts developed in lessons.

As the students increase their experiences in taking those contests, their scores increase: often a Somersfield student will be in the top 5 per cent of the world.

Those problems, in addition to reasoning clearly, also need open-minded thinking.

Thinking outside the box can help applying knowledge and making connections between topics to reveal something that was unknown to our own mind. Maths can open our future with millions of job opportunities, but the beauty of maths is that we will never know everything.

(Neil) Maths is a great subject that helps you problem solve and is, in my opinion, the greatest subject in the world.

Well done to all the students involved and to Neil and Thibaut.