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Hands-on learning
Hands-on learning
Sebastian Krass

GIESSEN — It will make you crazy — the pyramid simply does not want to fit into the glass cube. Melih turns it again, this time just a little, and then sticks it in the open side of the cube again. No luck. He tries more forcefully, pressing down on the pyramid. But the fifth grader’s strength is not enough to break a law of mathematics.

Just as Melih is about to give up, it works. He’d turned the pyramid exactly right, so that its edge aligned with the cube’s diagonal, and it slipped right in. Instead of frustration, he now sports a satisfied grin. “It was pretty hard to twist it right,” the boy says.

The theme of Melih’s class visit to the interactive Math Museum in the central German city of Giessen is “shapes.” It’s a place to “experience math without pressure or fear.” That’s the way it’s described by Albrecht Beutelspacher, a mathematics professor at the University of Giessen and the museum’s founder.

The Aha! approach

There are no equations to solve here, just little experiments. “You can’t solve them with patience or luck. There is a little trick,” Beutelspacher explains. “And when you figure it out, there is an aha moment.” Those moments hold the potential to bring the visitor closer to math, and the museum has indeed won several prizes for its methods since opening in 2002. It attracts about 150,000 visitors per year — around 400 per day.

“Pressure” and “fear” are two words that many schoolchildren associate with math.
And according to Stuttgart math professor Christian Hesse, it is also the most loathed subject in school.

German parents spend around 1.5 billion euros per year for tutoring, estimates the After School Help Schools professional group. “More than half of that is for math,” says Cornelia Sussieck, the group’s chairwoman. That proportion has been steady for years, so there must be something wrong with the way math is taught in German schools. But are people aware of the problem, and do they have the will to change it?

Critics say that traditional math classes concentrate excessively on exercises and equations. Kids often don’t understand what the point is. They don’t have the freedom to experience math on their own, with teachers to help them understand the concepts.

“There is math hidden in every church tower and traffic sign,” Beutelspacher says.

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

The Dead And Disappeared: A Village Emerges From 72 Days Of Russian Occupation

Russian forces have been pushed out of the area around Kharkiv. Villages that were occupied for two months are free once more — but utterly destroyed. And thousands of people have disappeared without a trace.

Kharkiv and the surrounding villages faced weeks of constant Russian shelling.

Alfred Hackensberger

TSYKRUNY — Andriy Kluchikov uses a walking stick, but is otherwise fairly sprightly for a 94-year-old. Under his black wool hat, Kluchikov seems fearless as he surveys his hometown in northeastern Ukraine. “The missiles don't scare me,” he says with a smile. “I have slept in my own bed every night and never went down into the basement.”

As for the two-meter-wide bomb crater that has appeared in his garden, between the vegetable patch and the greenhouse with its shattered plastic roof, Kluchikov almost seems proud. “No one can intimidate me,” he says. “Not even the Russians.”

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In the early days of the war, in February, Russian artillery almost completely destroyed this village of Tsyrkuny, near Kharkiv, Ukraine's second largest city. Only a few houses, including his own, were left undamaged. Shortly afterwards, Russian troops marched into the village and occupied it for 72 days. It was not until early this week that the Ukrainian army was able to liberate Tsyrkuny and many other areas to the north of the country’s second-largest city, Kharkiv.

It is the Ukrainians’ most successful counter-offensive so far. They are thought to have pushed the invading troops back almost to the Russian border. “The offensive is gaining momentum,” according to the independent American thinktank Institute for the Study of War. “It has forced Russian troops on the defensive and has successfully alleviated artillery pressure on Kharkiv City.”

In the modern city of Kharkiv, home to around 1.5 million residents, the relief has been palpable over the last few days. Restaurants and cafes have reopened. People are walking and riding bikes in the parks, and couples are strolling hand in hand, enjoying the warm spring sunshine. You can still hear the artillery, but it is now many miles away.

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Central to the tragic absurdity of this war is the question of language. Vladimir Putin has repeated that protecting ethnic Russians and the Russian-speaking populations of Ukraine was a driving motivation for his invasion.

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