Making maths fun

Maths for Fun, Ireland

by Anne Marie O’Neill, Youth Training and Development Centre, Newbridge

Logarithms! The mere mention of this subject can send your friends running for the hills and once strong and healthy men into crumbling wrecks rocking back and forward in the corner ... ok, slight exaggeration, but close enough. So why was it, that on this fine spring morning, I was facing my Level 4 group (they are between 17- 20 years old and have just finished Level 3 maths) with a mixture of blind hope and determination to tackle this dreaded subject? I would not make them become lifelong haters of logarithms. Oh no! They would embrace the subject. Why was I so quietly confident? Well, I had a plan. I had with me my secret weapon!

We were to become virtual tourists by using the wonderful world of logarithms! Logs, for most of us, are just not something we come across in our everyday lives. So, how do you make logs real for people?  By becoming virtual tourists we would travel the world looking at population, land area, national debt, exports, imports or anything that would generate large numbers and convert these to scientific notation. Scientific notation is a way of writing numbers that are too big or too small to be conveniently written in decimal form. Also on our travels we would identify the countries which experience earthquakes and find out how to calculate the energy releases during an earthquake or the magnitude of an earthquake.

To truly immerse my students in the experience I planned on giving them a short presentation on a country which I know well - Italy. To make it interesting I was going to introduce them to some of the typical food of that country, leading on nicely to the export and import revenue, migration and so on. I had my pizza cooking in the oven and my ‘pao con chorizo’ heated-up and ready to go.


Well lads, as we are going to Italy first, in comes the pizza. Let’s travel to Italy and I will tell you everything while we eat.

‘Who cooked the pizza?’ asked one.

‘Where did you buy it?’  

‘How long was it in the oven?’

 ‘I don’t like ham’.  

This was not going quite as I planned. All talk of population and converting it to base 10 had gone out the window. And how you move the decimal point was a side issue.


We used another example of earthquakes and working out the energy released during an earthquake, comparing it to an explosion using TNT on The Curragh and how far that explosion would be heard or felt. They were able to work out the energy and magnitude.

Maybe the food plan did not work out as I planned but on leaving the room one of my learners turned around and commented, “God Anne I never know what you are going to come out with next, but I’ll never forget this class. I won’t be able to look at pizza the same again.” And that I would say is a job done. We want them to remember the class and the information long after we are gone. Ok, it didn’t have the reaction I was hoping for, but end result was that they got involved, had some fun in the process and could do the exercise in a practical way.


Now how do I make personal finance seem like fun?