Math Circle: first lunchtime class at Malcolm X, Spring 2012

[At Malcolm X, Math Circle is an optional lunchtime activity.]

Dear Parents,

60's teach-in.

60’s teach-in.

At 11:39 I was bracing for the onslaught when a tiny girl, a first grader it seemed, came into our hallway on her way to the library. Only she wasn’t going to the library.  “I’m here for Math Circle,” she announced to me.  She had the quality of a quietly heralding angel.

The photos attached are of the first ten minutes and the last 35 minutes. The first ten felt like a 60’s teach-in, full of the sincere, the curious, and those simply seeking to dine out in a new locale, 40+ in all.  After a pleasant introduction to topology while they ate lunch, most then chose to go out to the playground, while sixteen chose to go to the library to work on the day’s challenge, figuring out which letters are topologically equivalent.  They did this by classifying cut-outs  of the letters or by playing a simple drawing game which I named “Morph-It.” The third photograph is two two girls at work playing Morph-It.


Notice the second photograph: Math Circle classes usually attract more boys than girls, so it is thrilling to see so many girls here.  I can only guess at why.  If the alternative is to go out on the playground, perhaps many boys have a greater need than girls for what playground offers.  Of the sixteen students, most girls came with one or two friends, but each boy, as far as I could tell, came as an individual.  It may be that if girls can approach math with a friend, they are much less frightened or put off than if they face it alone.  Lastly, I had prepared two lessons to teach, depending on the crowd, and I chose the one which is geometric rather than numerical, quietly profound rather than splashy and spectacular.  That may have spoken more to the girls, or at least to a certain personality type.Whatever the reason for so many girls, that seems something precious that we should hold on to. As well, it was wonderful to meet several students whom I had not met before.  

There were several students whom I was expecting, but I am sorry did not show up, and others who stayed for the initial talk but chose not to continue the math challenge in the library.  I saw one boy after school who had forgotten to come, and he felt bad for having missed it.  It may take a couple of weeks, but we’ll get the kinks out.

Playing "Morph-It"

Playing “Morph-It”

Topologically speaking, there are only nine distinct shapes that make up the letters of our alphabet.  I heard afterwards from Mr. Hunt [the principal] that some students had come up to challenge him, how many letters are there in the alphabet?  Then they explained to him that there are 9, not 26.


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