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Maths Craft Festival

  • Auckland War Memorial Museum Museum Circuit Auckland, Auckland, 1010 New Zealand (map)

Maths Craft New Zealand’s two-day flagship event, the Maths Craft Festival, was held on the weekend of 9 and 10 September 2017 in the Auckland Museum, and was a huge success. Over 3,400 visitors explored maths through craft at the ten craft stations, and by attending a series of free public lectures. The craft stations were staffed by our dedicated team of volunteers drawn from University of Auckland students and staff, from school teachers, and from local maths craft enthusiasts. These volunteers guided our visitors through the maths and the craft at the stations, which included string art, crochet, origami, Penrose tiles, knitted knots, Menger cubes, mathematical colouring and drawing, Möbius strips, and flexagons. This second Maths Craft Festival was open from 10am to 5pm on Saturday and Sunday, and combined hands-on craft with public lectures given by mathematicians from New Zealand and Australia. The event was busy from the moment we opened the doors, peaking in the afternoons when the stations were thronging, the craft tables were full, and the floor was packed with knots of people crafting and talking about mathematics.

We are delighted that this year’s event exceeded the successes of the 2016 Festival in every way. Last year, we were considered a big success with over 1,800 visitors at the inaugural Festival. This year, we almost doubled that number, and indeed we had more than 1,800 visitors on the Sunday alone. Our larger number of visitors enjoyed a wide range of maths crafts available, with many new activities and handouts having been newly developed this year. We were also thrilled that the Museum gave us the beautiful and spacious Event Centre on the roof of the Museum, with its large windows commanding 360 degree views of the city. Visitors entered this stunning space via lifts, and were first greeted by volunteers who gave them information about the craft stations and the schedule of public talks. After admiring the peerless views of Auckland, and perhaps enjoying a drink from the coffee cart, visitors entered the airy Event Centre, full of the natural light so perfect for craft work. On offer were the ten stations already described, along with displays of mathematical craft on tables, in display cabinets, and even suspended from the ceiling. In the centre of the space were numerous tables at which people could sit and try the crafts they learned at the stations. We were delighted to see young and old working together and talking through the maths they were doing with their hands. Our friendly and keen volunteers were always on hand to help, both at the stations and at the craft tables, where they circulated with advice, encouragement, and materials. A quiet wing of the Event Centre held an almost contemplative space for arranging Penrose tiles into simple, beautiful, and aperiodic patterns.

Five free public lectures were scheduled throughout the weekend, held in the auditorium below the Event Centre. The talks were given by New Zealand and Australian mathematicians, and were attended by hundreds of people of all ages. Associate Professor Clemency Montelle of the University of Canterbury gave an entertaining and illuminating talk on the topology of clothing which few will forget – especially the children who volunteered to cut up clothes and be tied together with t-shirts, all in the name of mathematics. Continuing the clothing theme, Associate Professor Burkard Polster from Monash University in Melbourne gave a fascinating talk on the mathematics of shoelaces, and how this is related to some of the deepest questions in mathematics. Ms Elizabeth Chesney, a university student and retired schoolteacher from Christchurch, talked about knitting mathematical knots, and the beautiful theory behind them. Dr Michael Assis travelled from the University of Melbourne to explain the mathematics of origami to an audience enthralled both with the mathematics and with the folding they did in his talk. Finally, the University of Auckland’s Professors Hinke Osinga and Bernd Krauskopf gave a wonderfully entertaining and insightful talk about chaos, crochet, and mathematical sculpture.

This was the biggest Maths Craft New Zealand event we have ever run, and after a tremendous amount of preparation and development, we were thrilled to see so many people having such a good time and engaging – deeply and energetically – with mathematics. We received a lot of positive feedback at the event, which was repeated in the responses of the 110 people who completed our online surveys, in which over 91% of people said they “loved it”, with over 93% of respondents saying that they learned something, and over 95% saying they would “definitely” do something like it again. Respondents also picked up on one of our central themes, that mathematics is all around us, and that there are strong links between mathematics and the imagination. Several adult respondents also said that they “wish[ed] we had this when I went to school”, as they felt that they would have been more motivated to continue with mathematics, and would have found it more enjoyable. Our survey showed that only around 60% of respondents said that they came to the event feeling that they “liked” mathematics, which shows that we have broad appeal beyond maths fans. Even better was the fact that 87% said that they liked maths by the time they left the Festival, with no-one saying that they did not like it! Participants had learned “how maths is in so many parts of life” and that “maths can be art”. Many survey respondents said of the Festival that “we loved it”, “it was awesome”, “fantastic”, and that “it was lots of fun”, with others asking us to “keep it up” and saying that this “brilliant event” with “great people” was “wonderful”. The Museum were also very happy with the event, and once again have invited us back for 2018, and there is nothing we would like more than to make a large Maths Craft Festival a regular event in New Zealand, with thousands able to explore our unique blend of maths and craft.

 The Auckland Museum. Image used with permission. 

The Auckland Museum. Image used with permission. 

Earlier Event: July 5
Inspire Festival
Later Event: February 11
Dunedin Maths Craft Day