Sunrise on the Curl Curl netball courts and local maths teacher Iolo Davies is visualising the court’s semi-circle as a protractor.
He pulls out his chalk and starts planning out his lessons for the day.
It is a ritual he started in the first lockdown last year, and he thought he was anonymous– but the skateboard-riding logic-lover has become a little too well known locally to pull off a Banksy.
“He’s drawing quite a crowd and he’s become the talk of the town,” wife Rhian tells us when alerting us to the story. “He’ll kill me for dobbing him in but he is really making the lessons more interesting for his kids.”
Iolo uses the chalk drawings in his live sessions with Year 5 and 6 students at St Spyridon College, a school in Kingsford he has taught at for seven years since arriving from Wales. The school already allows for creative approaches to teaching, he said, and they have dedicated maths teachers like Iolo for years 5 and 6.
But it began in his backyard, writing out the times tables in chalk with his seven-year-old daughter, Elsa, who is at Curl Curl North Public. And, while he does his drawings chiefly for his students, he also knows many local students and their parents are frequenting the courts and taking notes during this period of home schooling.
“The drawings are explainers and I take videos for my students talking through the work for about five minutes.” I ask if he is an artist or ever worked in design because of the work’s precision, but he laughs. “Oh no, I’m not an artist, I’m not even a mathematician, not really. I just like teaching maths and breaking problems down into small, easy steps,” he explains.
“We like to work on solving ungooglable problems, looking for weak links in problems and getting kids to think differently.”
In Iolo’s regular classroom he has written on the wall, “It’s not magic, it’s maths.”
“I like to show tricks or problems that seem like magic and children have to work out where in the trick the maths is. I think the more children learn the true function of maths the more interesting it is to them. We no longer ask what is seven times four but WHY is seven times four 28.”
Iolo says it’s a particularly hard time in lockdown for students because they really miss seeing their friends, many are really itching to get back to the classroom and no doubt parents feel the same. But in the interim, he will use a little creativity to keep things more interesting, and the local parents battling home-schooling are enjoying integrating his work into part of their day, too.
“I didn’t really realise this until this morning, he says on Thursday. I had a few parents come up and ask ‘so what’s the lesson for today?”
“This is just a lockdown novelty but it’s good for me, too. I come down here at 6am and it’s peaceful, tranquil, and I get creative.”
I suggested a comparison to Sydney maths teacher Eddie Woo, who has become quite well known for his interesting video tutorials on mathematics. ‘Were you inspired by him?’ I ask. “Not really,” he says. “Though I did go and see him talk in Chatswood a while back. How good is it that a maths teacher can become so well known? It’s a good sign, I think.”
I was so grateful his wife dobbed him in to us because it’s the kind of creative, local, feel good story – community magic – that we all need to hear alongside the growing local case numbers and daily covid doom and gloom. Though of course Iolo would say it’s not magic – it’s maths.