Jack Frost’s centre

On the weekend I watched the film “Rise of the Guardians” by Dreamworks Pictures, and it is a very enjoyable film. In it, Jack Frost is enlisted by the Man in the Moon to join the Guardians of Childhood–who already have Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Sandman and the Tooth Fairy in their ranks–and together they fight the evil Pitch Black, who is the Bogeyman.

There is a scene in the film, where Santa Claus (called “North” by the other Guardians) gives some advice to the new recruit Jack. He tells Jack that he needs to find his centre — that part of him that guides how he will guard the children of the world against fear.

Spoiler alert! Jack’s centre is fun. His great epiphany is when he finds himself saying the phrase: “Don’t be afraid, we’re just going to have a bit of fun instead.” He realises that for hundreds of years he has been warding off the darkness of winter by helping children have fun in the snow. Because they are having fun, they forget to be afraid.

And then it was Monday. And not just any Monday either! It was the first day of O’Week — one of the busiest days in the year for the MLC. From 8am it was printing handouts and setting up the drop-in-centre and visiting preliminary lectures and playing Numbers and Letters in the Hub Central welcome centre.

This year we had PASS leaders helping us out in the welcome centre and I must say they were a great bunch of people who leaped into the role of seeking out students with cheerful fervour. Georgia in particular was super enthusiastic about getting people involved in the games, and indeed playing the games herself.

Interestingly, Georgia started the day saying she wasn’t all that good at calculations, and stood back letting others do it. But I persevered with her, encouraging her to have a go, asking for any ideas, writing down her slightly wrong solutions so we could work together to tweak them to make them work. By the end of the day she was our greatest champion for the numbers game, itching to rub it out and start a new one every time we drew the last stroke of the previous solution.

That night when thinking about this MLC success story, I suddently made the connection to “Rise of the Guardians”. Georgia had forgotten to be afraid because she was having fun. She had forgotten to be afraid of calculations, forgotten to be afraid of failing, forgotten to be afraid of looking stupid in public — all because what we were doing was playing a game.

Of course this is precisely why we have a mathematical art and play program at the MLC, but I had never so clearly realised the power that it actually had to change someone’s perspective.

And I never realised how much of the time that Jack Frost’s centre is mine too. Any number of times a day, I will do something to distract a student from their fear so that they can get on with learning the maths they need to learn: wear a maths-themed t-shirt, pull out the play dough, draw their diagram in texta or crayon, ask about their lecturer’s lovable quirks, or just simply yell out “That’s so COOL!”. In all of this I am saying to the student, “”Don’t be afraid of the maths, let’s just have a bit of fun instead.”

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