Maths Week England ambassador Dr Ems Lord argues for more focus in schools on the fun side of mathematics in order to create problem-solving leaders of the future.

Schools up and down the country celebrated Maths Week England (MWE) earlier this month. Its organisers reported over one million registrations for this year's event, an impressive achievement for a relatively new initiative. When Andrew Jeffrey, also known as the Mathmagician, was inspired to launch MWE in 2019, his ambition was to bring accessible and enjoyable mathematics to everyone. This is clearly happening in many schools, where teachers increasingly embraced this new initiative, but there's still some way for Maths Week England to go before it captures the public imagination in quite the same way as families embrace World Book Day.

Although dressing up has become synonymous with the annual reading event, I reckon busy families might just appreciate an alternative approach for MWE than the mad dash around their homes the night before the event to create a costume which will survive the rigours of the school day. Let's encourage families to come into school and play games together. Moreover, let's get them to bring along a game too. Families can enjoy playing maths games together, including examples which embrace their different cultures, raising the profile of the day (and hopefully sending sales of games in our high street shops rocketing too). Classes can review the games they've played, set up a Top Ten and compare them to other classes and schools. They can even have a go at making their own games. The possibilities are endless.

Playing games together can also help to address stereotypes about maths. Sadly, maths still needs to overcome negative attitudes to the subject. We also have far too few female mathematicians. We know that children's attitudes to maths are influenced by their parents, and girls are influenced by their mums. Playing games together and helping children to develop master their key skills can help to encourage more girls to see their female adults as role models for maths skills.

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Working together is also key; too many children firmly believe that mathematics is a solitary activity. I've even visited Key Stage Two classes (7-11-year-olds) where the teachers wanting to use a set of dominos for a maths investigation had pre-teach the game the day before the intended lesson because so few children had played the game with the families. Let's address those issues by bringing games back into the classroom.

Choosing which games to play will be part of the fun. Games such as Snakes and Ladders enable players to practise their number skills and take turns, which is essential for younger children, but winning depends on chance. These types of games lack the types of decision-making required by others which are much more likely to engage and excite their players, and lead to more sustained engagement. Traditional games such as dominos, chess and draughts also require players take turns, but those players compete against one another. They need to make decisions about their next move – the key difference between these types of games and Snakes and Ladders is the element of choice. Teachers can be pro-active by ensuring their classrooms have a suitable supply of these types of games in readiness for next year's event. Once their classes have played them and understood the rules, they can encourage them to record the rules for other classes, making the activity cross-curricular too.

Schools do not need to limit themselves to playing board games. Given our children's digital knowhow today, even from an early age, there are a huge variety of child-friendly online strategy games to explore too, such as Got It and Phiddlywinks that our team at NRICH have developed.

If World Book Day can galvanise families into reading together, then MWE can surely bring families together to play games and think mathematically. Let's see if our TV screens during MWE 2022 can feature families enjoying both traditional and much newer strategy games together, celebrating games from different cultures, and challenging what it really means to be good at maths.

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