Learning shouldn't be a chore, but it's all too easy for the fun to be sucked out of difficult subjects like mathematics. It's the indisputable truth that led to Math Quest, an annual math challenge for children aged up to 12 years old.
Founded in 1996, the three-day event is supported by the Educational Collaborative for International Schools (ECIS) and has, for 22 years running, been held at various participating international schools across Europe.
This year, it was the turn of Stockholm International School (SIS) to plan and host the event, a responsibility relished by organiser Tess Guyo (but no mean feat, with around 140 visiting students and coaches in addition to SIS's 60-strong Math Quest team).
Around 200 students and teachers visited Stockholm International School for this year's annual Math Quest competition.
It was Tess who first suggested SIS begin participating in Math Quest, and this year marked the eighth year the school has entered a team. It's just one of many collaborative learning activities that SIS plans throughout the school year.
“There's the stigma that math is difficult, so opening this activity to young minds inspires them to better understand that it's not really that hard. It can be tough but we can do it in a fun way as well,” says Guyo, who is head of SIS's student support department.
Over the course of the three-day event that was held in early May, students took part in a range of mathematical challenges, including a math ‘trail' at Tekniska Museet and a construction task which saw them build a Vasa Ship out of recycled materials. They also went on a mini-tour of the Stockholm archipelago and expended some excess physical energy at trampoline park Bounce.
“While they're here we want them to do more than math. It's about getting them to immerse themselves in the culture and city itself,” says Guyo.
It's the school's responsibility to organise the event and coach the children, but Math Quest wouldn't be possible without the host families who provide bed and board for the young competitors.
Nancy Johnson, who has two sons currently attending SIS, couldn't wait to welcome a pair of Math Quest entrants visiting from Lycee International School into her home.
“I've been in touch with their parents by phone and I'm really excited,” Nancy told The Local.
She'd already thoughtfully confirmed any dietary requirements so she could plan meals for her young visitors and organised outings for the free time they had in-between activities.
“They're actually really busy, I'm kind of bummed out! Tonight we'll have turkey lasagna and hang out then maybe go for a walk. We do get the opportunity to see them in action on Sunday so I'm looking forward to being there and wishing them well.”
Itay Shoham (second from right) poses with several international Math Quest entrants.
The most important part of the event, of course, is that the children themselves enjoy taking part. And they do; just ask 11-year-old SIS student Itay Shoham who travelled to Geneva with the school's team last year. He recalled the competition with enthusiasm and felt he gained much from the entire experience.
“It was really fun,” says the 11-year-old. “I learned from it too. It was a series of tests but also we got to have fun with math.”
That's not to say preparation wasn't intensive, with participating students giving up much of their own time to get their math skills in shipshape before taking part.
“We had a couple of teachers who prepared us for about three months before we went to Geneva. We did advanced math like quizzes and practice tests,” remembers Itay.
His favourite part was the trail which is a practical outdoor application of mathematics and an insight into local history and culture.
“We got to see a bit of Geneva on the math trail which is like this course where you see the city and do math activities. It was beautiful and I really enjoyed it.”
Math Quest coach Maryam Samii who was visiting Stockholm from Berlin Brandenburg International School has been involved with the event for seven years now. She believes that one of the truly special things about Math Quest is that it brings out the best in already gifted students.
“This level of commitment, motivation and engagement is not something I can inject in them. While they are there, it's like synergy when you put a group of highly talented kids who share the same interest in the same room.”
She adds that of almost equal importance is that the children get the chance to travel at a young age, gaining independence as well as a more intercultural outlook.
“Oh, it's amazing. Mingling, exchanging ideas, and making new friendships -- the kids discover something new in themselves in terms of personal and social interpersonal skills. It's really valuable.”
SIS's Tess Guyo wholeheartedly agrees. In fact, it's one of the reasons she has been so dedicated to the event over the past eight years.
“It's an eye opener for younger children. They see an international flow of hospitality and meet people from different cultures and backgrounds. They come to understand ‘we can live with other people, that is possible'”.
This article was produced by The Local Creative Studio and sponsored by Stockholm International School.