Teaching students to brace math skills in a fun way

Wednesday June 5 2019


By Detricia Pamba

We all know that most people probably hate maths. Not only is it perceived as a hard subject, no one just seems to entirely get it. At first the basics seem fine, we can add, subtract, multiply and divide, as long as the numbers are smaller, but the more the numbers increase, the so called “maths problem” increases as well. If you think you are alone in this, you are not! Statistics revealed by the Matokeo app, derived from Necta, show that in the 2018 form four national examinations, about 77.95 per cent of students had failed in the mathematics subject.

Maths teacher Sapna Bhattbhatt says that students often fail maths for various reasons. Some fail because they find it hard to memorize the subject as it required work and lots of practice.

“I also highly believe that if a student is taught maths in a fun way, he/she will be able to perform better,” added Sapna.

Sapna is a mathematics teacher at Rising Star Academy, an after school academy located at Upanga, in Dar es Salaam, that focuses on teaching mathematics to students after their school sessions. The major aim of the academy is to simply enhance students to not only love maths, but also start performing well in the subject.

Primary students of the third to fourth grade, mostly who are aged up to eleven and twelve are taught using abacus and brain gymnastics. She told Success that students need a very good teacher who can keep them interested in maths. “When teaching the students, we work on all five senses. Studies have further shown that the right side of the brain helps to produce pictures when you mention something and we are trying to use this in learning maths, especially when teaching with abacus,” she says.

Nevertheless, these studies do not interfere with the curriculum, as the students are expected to learn and follow what they have been taught in class, instead it helps the students have a better base with mathematics which in turn helps them do better on the subject at their actual schools.

“Most students have proven to be successful with our program. They have been gradually improving in their respective classes, all thanks to our teachings. We have had many reviews from parents who have testified that their children have highly improved in maths, which is impressive,” Sapna commented.

This woman, who is very passionate about children and solving the problem of many students failing in mathematics, was motivated to start this academy by the results of her own children. She was living in India where at the times she said, the use of abacus in learning was at the peak. When her own children started schooling and their results weren’t as impressive, she started searching for new ways to help them understand the subject, that is when she thought of using abacus, as she had seen back in India.

After using the abacus to teach her own kids and seeing the impact it created, Sapna knew that she could help more children learn mathematics and that is when she started teaching other children.

She and the children have been able to compete in international abacus competitions, where she says the children learnt to interact with others and see how children from other environments are tackling the maths problem. Among the countries that they went to participate for the competitions include Sri Lanka, Malaysia and India.

Speaking to Success, Shruti Ajay Sidpara, a grade eight student from Aga Khan Mzizima, who is also a student at the academy, says that abacus is a very useful mathematics tool to use. It has a lot of benefits in different ways; boosts self-confidence, develops mental arithmetic abilities and promotes creativity.

“Abacus learning has not only helped me with the basic calculations like addition, multiplication, subtraction, and division, it has also helped me in effective counting of decimal points, negative numbers, etc,” she says.

Shruti adds that abacus is a method which helps sharpen the brain, enabling students to do multiple work. “One who has learnt abacus can calculate amazingly fast without even using a pen and paper, at times faster than someone calculating on a calculator,” added Shruti.

Another student Shaurya kumar from Genesis school said that abacus has helped him enhance his calculation precision. “It helped me to score higher, my confidence in class is now greater and I’m performing way better than I did before,” he says.

The use of abacus in teaching mathematics has become quite popular right now. With more results on the internet from various websites teaching how to use abacus to study maths, this technique has proven to be useful and fun.

The question that remains is whether this technique should be adopted in normal curriculum in schools. While this is still in question, Rising Star Academy has been trying to collaborate with schools so as to be able to teach more students.

Sapna, under the Rising Star Academy has recently started what she dubs as ‘her dream project’, which is in collaboration with Lions Club of Tanzanites to help underprivileged children brace maths skills in a fun way. The project has started at Unubini Primary School, where lessons are taught. The academy goes there twice a week to teach students. This is done during the time that they have no classes as scheduled by the school.

The school, which is located in Temeke District in Dar es Salaam, has many students coming from low income families, making it an ideal school for the pilot of the project.

Academy teachers are given two hours in a day and two days in a week to teach these children at Unubini Primary School. One of the teachers from the academy, Casilda Msaki told Success that abacus makes mathematics become an easier subject for her students as it simplifies learning. “Instead of the students using fingers to count up to ten, when students know the values, they are able to solve the maths problem easily,” she says.

However much the project has been successful, there are a number of challenges that are being faced. According to Winnie Mushi, a teacher, there’s a challenge with students that have a low learning ability. “Students are of different natures; we have few of them that are willing to learn but their ability of learning is very low, teaching them becomes very challenging as they require more attention than others. We take more time with them, nevertheless, abacus has brought more positive changes to my students as most of them now enjoy studying mathematics and even perform well in class,” she says.

Teaching method

The students are taught through a brain gym that has super brain yoga exercises class. Sapna says, “It all starts with the brain (mentally). Kids come from different families and different backgrounds, at the very beginning, we do not know their mental state. The first main important thing that we believe is that your brain should be developed enough to be able to grasp what is being taught. There are many aspects that contribute to better learning, including food and background, so we focus on the super brain gym program, which will help the body to balance and the brain to remember more.”

Apart from these efforts made by the academy, Sapna still insists on having a good and friendly environment with the students.

“Here we have a friendly relationship with the students, of course with discipline.