500 Words, Teaching Stories

Student tutors + informal setting = ‘Maths Cafes’

Since the Summer BILT Hackathon, I’ve been thinking about the concept of the ‘familiar stranger’ and what we can do to tackle this issue in the University. After seeing the ‘Maths Cafes’ in the Good Practice Guides developed by AQPO, I got in touch with Arne Kovac, UG School Education Director in the School of Mathematics, to find out more about the Cafes and how they are helping solve this issue in his School. 

The Maths Cafes largely take place in the beautiful , newly-renovated Fry Building

The Maths Café concept was conjured up a decade ago and has become a vital support mechanism for second year students in the School of Mathematics. Originally intended to create an informal place for students to talk about their work, the Maths Café has developed into student-run sessions running alongside formal units.

Students in first year have high contact hours and take only compulsory units, working closely with their peers and tutors. However, as they move into second year, they are given more choice in their modules, and therefore spend less time with their cohort as a large group. This is where the Maths Cafes come into play.

Each second-year unit has two Maths Café sessions a week, with third and fourth years undertaking the role of ‘tutor’ – a role they have to apply for and get paid for, providing valuable experience for the both students attending the session and those delivering it. The ‘cafes’ have been so popular the concept has now been made available for third-years.

The Maths Café provide an informal setting where students can ask questions they may deem to be too basic to ask their lecturers and allow them to work in a non-judgemental environment with their peers. The External Examiner highlighted the success of these cafes, and students consistently name the Cafes as their top three things they like about the course.

Running of the Maths Cafes is largely supported by the School Admin Office who manage the student-tutor contracts, room booking and training.

The longevity of this project is a testament to its success – with an increasing number of students feeling isolated on growing programmes, the Cafes provide both academic and social support for those attending and should be considered in other areas where this is a similar issue.

Do you run something similar to the Maths Café in your School, or are you interested in setting one up? Get in touch with BILT to find out how we can help you. 

Amy Palmer

3 thoughts on “Student tutors + informal setting = ‘Maths Cafes’”

  1. In Study Skills we’re quite interested in setting something up that *any* student can go to, so more like maths cafés in other universities. We’ve a new Study Skills tutor focusing on maths skills, Jennifer Norris, who’ll be leading on this. It’d be great if we can coordinate all of this!

  2. Yes, I’m just starting to get some maths skills support off the ground. It’s a work in progress, but there are lots of exciting things happening already. Here’s what’s happening so far:
    – Our online resources include a resource on reading graphs and charts, as well as a page of useful web links for developing maths & stats skills
    – Student-led drops ins are running on a weekly basis. This is a great first port of call for questions on how maths is used in different faculties, and for getting tips on learning maths from a student perspective.
    – A weekly ‘Brush Up on Your Maths’ workshop has started on Tuesday afternoons. There will be a different topic focus each week, as well as time for students to work together to solve their current maths/ stats problems.
    – 1:1 tutorials are now running in the Queens/ Fry building for students who would like to talk through specific problems, or to discuss more general approaches to developing maths skills.

    All of these can be accessed via the Study Skills page on Blackboard. Please do check it out and get in touch with any questions/ suggestions/ ideas. Thanks!

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