Rania Habib reports on the annual mathematics conference organised by the Higher Colleges of Technology in Abu Dhabi recently

No matter which way you add, divide, multiply or graph it, mathematics and fun don't equate to a believable match in the eyes of many sceptics.

Tell a student that maths can be fun and you may most likely be met with a resounding laugh.

Enter the Higher Colleges of Technology's (HCT) annual maths conference, where college teachers from across the UAE were invited to take part in lectures and workshops in a bid to promote and humanise the mystery that is mathematics.

This year, the Third Maths Conference was titled Motivating Maths Students, a feat that may sound unlikely or impossible to teachers and students alike.

But with lively and imaginative speakers like Dr Ansie Harding from the University of Pretoria in South Africa and Deborah Hughes Hallet from the University of Arizona, USA, motivating maths students sounded as feasible as elementary subtraction.

Held at the Abu Dhabi Women's College, the conference put forward ideas and techniques for teachers.

Harding stressed the need to believe in students and not underestimate their potential, while Hallet explained why mathematics is important in every aspect of student life.

Both speakers encouraged the concept of blended learning, which incorporates both face-to-face education as well as online learning. Various technologies were discussed throughout the conference, such as WebCT, podcasting, wikis and blogs.

What do the international educators say?

Dr Ansie Harding, University of Pretoria
"We can change an attitude in a classroom, because we are professional teachers. If you can create a community, make people feel like they are part of that community and involve them, then you can change things.

"Do not underestimate students; they are goldmines that just need to be explored.

"Teaching can be hyperbolic, start off well but decline, or it can be logarithmic. Of course, we'd like it to be exponential all the time, but it doesn't always work that way. You have to be human in class, show your personality so that students can relate.

"You cannot motivate students if you are not motivated yourself. Keep doing new things because doing the same thing over and over again is a killer. And never start a lecture with ?today we are doing to discuss?'."

Anju Dhamija, Abu Dhabi Women's College
"One thing I learned from this conference was that we keep going on in the same way without changing our style and expect students to be motivated.

"We have to change with the times and make it more interesting for students, and this is definitely something I will apply in my classroom.

"Also, I'd like to use more technology. At ADWC, we don't want to use technology for the sake of using it. We want to use it when we think it's good for the students and when we think they're going to learn and benefit from it.

"We do believe that the old method does have some importance, and so having a blended approach is always good."

Khalid Temsah, Dubai Men's College
"All these experienced people are put together to share the best practices, look at new technologies and at new approaches in delivering maths topics.

"Keep in mind that maths is always an obstacle; it's a barrier to many of our students who don't perceive it well. They do use maths on a daily basis, but they don't realise it. So whenever you put it in a framework, suddenly they can relate to ideas and concepts.

"You can make it fun, realistic and humane to students. We have to portray maths as positive and useful, something that students use in their daily activities like buying, selling, the stock market and finance; whether they acknowledge it or not it is all maths."

Lukas Van Veen, Fujairah Women's College
"A conference like this is really good to get you thinking again and start with fresh ideas. We have to have change and variety in the classroom.

"The workshops provide practical advice; it's not just theory, because you can transform everything into a reality in the colleges. After the workshops, you have to sit down and think about everything for a couple of days on how to implement all this great advice.

"I've been practising something in class which I learned at a previous conference, and that is if you repeat something three times during three consecutive sessions, then the students will know it well.

"But I realise this is repetitive and it may be boring for students, so now I will start to think about how to keep doing this but in a more varied way."

Deborah Hughes Hallet, University of Arizona
"It's important to start by answering student questions about why maths is important. Students, particularly if they're not going to be mathematicians or scientists, need to know why maths is important because it's often seen to them as drudgery or unimportant.

"We need to show students why learning maths can be helpful in things that they care about, not things that we care about.

"If I was working in the UAE, I'd take the types of ideas that have worked well in other places, and then knowing the student population here, their interests, their backgrounds and what involves them, I would recreate things in a way that was appropriate to them.

"I do believe that that can be done. Even if the examples you use are different in different countries, the philosophy is always the same.

"I'm very impressed at how much the HCTs have taken the lead in thinking about how to make education in maths a bigger and more active part of their curriculum. I think it's very important for the future of society here."

Wendy Turner, Abu Dhabi Women's College
"Motivation is extremely important for students; they get so much more of an incentive to learn. Students have the motivation, the drive, the individualism and the team work, and if we can help provide that as well as skills and knowledge, I think it can be very useful in the future.

"The future is very exciting for students at the ADWC; so passing on the motivation they have intrinsically and what they adopt in college is very important."