FAQ on „Mathothek“– Interview with Karl-Heinz Forbach
Where did you get the idea from?
It must have been in 2000 when there was a travelling exhibition in Mainz “Accessible Mathematics”. I went there with my 6th graders and two A-Level classes (Basic Course and Advanced Course).
Following the students’ great enthusiasm it occurred to me to start such a “touch-on museum” with objects like that.
We started during project-week in 2000/2001 and all my expectations were surpassed.
My extensive experiences as math teacher contributed greatly to the quick growth of “touch-on exhibits”.
I have always been interested in incorporating unusual, clear and varied means in order to motivate students for math and to create an understanding for the subject.
These items laid the foundation for the “Mathothek”.
What is the “Mathothek”?
It is a place where you can experience basic mathematics in a friendly and playful environment. The visitor learns to understand and to train his vision that math is everywhere and in everyday life: in and out of home.
The huge number of objects stem from all kinds of areas: numbers, geometry, patterns and structures.
Those items ask you to deal with them, to touch them and ideally through this astonishment. You are able to ask questions in order to understand.
These exhibits enable the visitors to access math and its features again and again.
It also helps to vary math lessons through these valuable experiences.
“Mathothek” is suitable for individuals as well as for small groups, who can turn it into a great success: ‘learning by doing’ = explaining + understanding amongst the students (social competency).
How many exhibits are there?
That’s quite a difficult question because it depends on what you call an exhibit: Let me give you an example – Are all 13 “Kantenmodelle” of the “Archemedian Body” hanging from the ceiling one or 13 exhibits since each of them in it consists of a multitude of elements.
I guess there are about 600 exhibits.
How long has this project “Mathothek” been going on?
As I said at the beginning of this interview in September 2000 at the School feast. A place for all the exhibits came later and was re-housed into a room with better facilities about two years ago since the very first one had become too crowded.
Have you got any contacts to the “Mathematikum” in Gießen?
The “Mathematikum” in Gießen (Germany) is the mother and our “Mathothek” is her emancipated daughter.
Professor Beutelspacher came to visit in May 2010 and held a speech in the hall. He was deeply impressed by all of our interactive objects and raised some concern whether we stop some of his visitors from coming.
I can deny this up this day that we did the opposite: We have always offered sufficient information and material about the “Mathematikum” Gießen.
When I go up north to visit family, I take the opportunity to stop by the Mathematikum especially when there are interesting exhibitions with exciting topics. These visits are always inspirational and motivating especially with all that space there which I’d like to have a share of.
Can we find you or the ”Mathothek” on another website?
No, only with some exceptions like some articles in a local newspaper.
[Amendment: This statement is now out of date. The Mathothek has its own website, which you are viewing right now.]
How many members are there at present?
There are two working teams on Tuesday and Thursday each with about twenty pupils. Every now and then we have some drop-ins (out of curiosity).
How many members have there been in total?
After all these years I have been involved, there must have been hundreds of pupils who have given time and effort (some handy work was required at times) for the “Mathothek”.
Since the school system was changed, the numbers are in the decline because pupils have more lessons in the afternoon.
Fortunately since 2012 the numbers are up again, because the working teams have been granted a higher status on the time table.
How much money is there in the “Mathothek”?
That’s an easy one: None, since there are no funds from the school or from other educational authorities.
Since it has been all my voluntary work (difficult to put a price-tag on – 2/3 of all the expenses).
It is very difficult to estimate how many individual objects there are and also how much they are: We have exhibits which are at the lower end of the price range and others at the top (over 100 €).
Therefore it is difficult to price the exhibits – I could have gone on more than one cruise or so I guess.
That does not leave question unanswered: The decisive factors for the “Mathothek” where the ideas and the creativity: The majority of objects are not mass production, but unique specimen.
Considering the time and ideas are most precious, more expensive than all the material the school would not have been able to afford it.
Which role does the “Mathothek” play in your life?
The “Mathothek” is certainly the icing on my work as a math teacher: To introduce math to students via “touch-on” method is exactly what I have enjoyed the most.
Specifically for those visitors whose have a certain rejection of “school math”.
Here math does not scare and it is not hard to understand, but touches you with its charm and aesthetics of all the exhibits.
The learner of math receives a lot of freedom and independence.
My vision and my idea of the “Mathothek” have been accomplished to more than 100%. I am most grateful for the visitors’ enthusiasm and the acknowledgement of all the visiting age groups (including students).
All this is a positive feedback for all work and money I have put towards it.