With 114 entries from 22 schools across six countries to judge, the Cindy Neuschwander Award* is very competitive this year. In this interview, 15-year-old Ayal Kaffman, the Award's winner, tells us a bit about himself, his inspiration for his winning maths story picture book entry (titled 'The Tale of Daisy Rabbit and the Autumn Festival') and his message for secondary school maths teachers and students globally.
*The Cindy Neuschwander Award (12-15 years old category) and the Stuart J. Murphy Award (8-11 years old category) represent the two age categories of MathsThroughStories.org's Young Mathematical Story Author (YMSA) competition. The competition is the world's first international mathematical story writing competition.
Could you start by telling us a bit about yourself?
I am a student in the tenth grade at Hamden High School in Hamden, Connecticut and, in the afternoon, I attend a visual arts program at the Educational Center for the Arts in New Haven, CT. I have always loved animals and biology, especially evolutionary biology, and I have liked maths in school; I also love the fine arts, especially the illustration process. I also am an avid reader and I especially like book series with animal protagonists, like the Red Wall and Mistmantle series, as well as the Brambly Hedge and Beatrix Potter books.
What inspired you to take part in the Young Mathematical Story Author (YMSA) competition?
My excellent Trigonometry teacher, Mrs. Nolan, gave an assignment to my class in the fall 2019 to make a children's book about math. My original book for this project was on a smaller scale with fewer pages. Following its completion, I stumbled upon the MathsThroughStories.com website and its YMSA competition which seemed like a great opportunity. Usually, I create my art for my immediate peers and teachers, but this project was to be shared with people I don't know from around the world. This felt somewhat new and different, but ultimately it led me to make a book I am truly proud of. Creating this math story picture book was a delight from the very beginning. I love to draw and I love math, and this was the perfect combination of the two. I would certainly encourage as many students (aged 8-15 years old) as I can to create math story picture book and enter the YMSA competition.
Your winning YMSA entry focused on the Trigonometric functions. What inspired you to choose this topic?
I focused on the Trigonometric functions, such as such as Cosine, Sine, and Tangent, because that was what I was learning in the fall 2019. When the project was assigned, the objective was explicitly to explore these topics, and so I was very prepared to write a second book with these concepts in mind. It was good for me to focus on something I was learning simultaneously, instead of something I already knew well, because it challenged me to fully engage with new material.
I was highly inspired by the works of Beatrix Potter, author of the popular “Peter Rabbit” book. My storyline is fairly simple, involving Daisy Rabbit moving around to different locations in preparation for a festival and solving different trigonometric problems with the help of her daughter.
I found that focusing on the trigonometric functions to make this story helped me to understand the concepts more fully. Thinking of plausible situations for the concepts to be applied both required a good understanding of the uses of such functions, and it illustrated exactly how useful maths can be in the real world. Without knowledge of such functions, I wouldn't know how to solve these problems in the real world, highlighting their significance. Expressing my knowledge through art and writing made learning these math concepts enjoyable and satisfying for me.
Lastly, what would you like to say to secondary school maths teachers and students who are reading this interview?
Creating math story picture books could be an excellent addition to the math curriculum for learners of any age. Any math assignment that encourages developing an in-depth understanding of a concept while being fun and creative is great, and creating a story picture book is a good example of this. Also, story picture books, being aimed at children, have the expectation that the reader has very little past knowledge, and thus the writer has to go out of the way to really flesh out the concept.
Moreover, creating a story picture book based on a singular math concept can impact your understanding in that, through illustration, the concept can be visualised in a way that is very easy to understand. By taking what may seem to be an abstract math concept and turning it into images, the concept is rendered easy to grasp and simple to understand. This can help not only those reading the story and viewing the visuals, but also the creator of the story who must complete this process and illustrate the story.