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In April this year the Mathematical Institute led a weekend of playful and creative maths activities in the city for the local community to discover the delights and applications of maths. Here, Mareli Grady reports on how it went.

A balloon structure at the Oxford Maths Festival

The Oxford Maths Festival took place on the weekend of 28-29th April 2018. The festival combined a range of activities freely delivered to the general public in several locations around Oxford. It was organised by the Mathematical Institute with financial support from the Department of Statistics, the London Mathematical Society, the Institute for Maths and its Applications and the Oxford for Oxford Project. The aim of the festival was to engage the local community to show the playfulness, applicability and creativity of Mathematics in a free and friendly environment.

The two-day festival included:

- Stalls with activities for ages 3 upwards in Bonn Square, which ran 11am – 4pm on Saturday.
- Mathematical walking tours of Oxford starting from the Sheldonian Theatre, 1-4pm on both days.
- Hands-on Maths activities for families
- Talks and workshops on a variety of topics and for different ages, including talks by Marcus du Sautoy, David Acheson, Jennifer Rogers and Thomas Crawford.
- Mathematical craft
- Mathematical board games

Some activities were ticketed and sold out well before the event. Others were drop-in on the day and were at capacity for most of it.

Attendance was monitored in several ways:

- Some events required pre-booking, and attendees were registered on arrival.

-On Saturday, attendees were given stickers upon arrival.

- On Sunday, families arriving at the Mathematical Institute were asked to provide the number of adults and children attending. We also monitored arrival and departure times.

We estimate attendance to be 1,250 people on Saturday across all events and 730 on Sunday across all events. On Sunday the attendance was approximately 50% adult, 50% children under 18.

Median time spent at the event on Sunday was 1h48.

In Feedback from 30 respondents to the post-event survey, 96.5% said their overall experience of the Oxford Maths Festival was Good or Excellent. 100% of respondents said that they would attend another Maths Festival.

“I thought it was brilliant, and would love to go again--we only managed to attend two events and it would have been nice to see what other things there were, e.g. the crafty maths”

“Thanks for holding the event. Look forward to inspiring my 10 year old twins with more maths in the future!”

“I enjoyed watching my kids engage with things, and the staff at the maths drop in were really great at drawing the kids in and encouraging them further. They have taken ideas and challenges away and started testing their friends, their dad, on things they found out, so the ideas spread beyond just the people who could attend.”

We collected attendees’ post codes on the Sunday. The majority of visitors were local, but several came from further afield. Unfortunately the event did not attract many visitors from hard-to-reach target audiences in lower socio-economic parts of Oxford.

All helpers at the festival were volunteers, including 15 session leaders and 50 undergraduate and postgraduate helpers. Their reasons for volunteering included thinking it would be fun, to engage with the local community, the enthuse people about maths and to gain skills.

“The whole event was very well organized. I feel that we were in a great spot on Saturday. We attracted a lot of attention and people. I feel the kids were engaged and mesmerized by the activities which were all interesting and engaging”

“Great event - definitely repeat it annually!”

“My session went very well, and all the kids and their parents seemed to really enjoy it, as did I!” 

What worked well

  • A dedicated photographer to get high-quality photos.
  • An event-specific website with all the activities and information required.
  • Using Eventbrite to manage bookings.
  • A sign at registration and put up throughout the event to notify people of photos. Those wishing not to be photographed were given a lanyard to make it easy for the photographer.
  • A wide range of activities for people to try, including some they could attempt by themselves.
  • Gazebos in Bonn Square (it was a dreadful day weather-wise!).
  • Providing vouchers for lunch (for volunteers) in Bonn Square, and a room with sandwiches and snacks for volunteers at the Maths Institute.
  • Clear and consistent branding (designed by one of our postgraduates) used throughout.

Lessons learnt

  • Providing an easier overall schedule on the website and on the day, so visitors can choose what to go to.
  • Clearer signs on age-appropriateness of sessions, and more activities for under-5s, who seemed to attend with older siblings.
  • The need for wider advertising to reach all corners of society.
  • High drop out from Eventbrite bookings – would overbook by 10% in future, and make it clear that spaces may be available on the day for anyone who wants to turn up and wait.
  • Put a dedicated person in charge of periodically going round all sessions to check session leaders are OK/provide opportunity for a break.
  • Provide much more and clearer signs to direct visitors.

 Next steps

Based on the success of the festival, the Mathematical Institute is keen to make it an annual event and is currently seeking corporate sponsorship to enable this to happen.