Math Circles: info

In General:

Math Circles began a generation ago in Eastern Europe, originally for high school students. Their purpose isn’t to cover topics in the usual algebra through calculus sequence, but instead to instill passion for math by presenting advanced math topics that a student would typically not see, topics that hint at what math looks like to a mathematician. Or more radically, as I have told some of my students, “What you think math is, is not math.”

Playing a NIM variant.

Playing a NIM variant.

In recent years, Math Circles have been attempted for younger children in elementary school. But at each level, the structure is the same: a carefully chosen problem is presented to the students, and they take it from there. They come up with ideas, they discuss, they argue, they bump forward. They are guided by the teacher, but they make their own discoveries, they are free to make their own mistakes. It may take us an hour or two or three more to work through a problem. One solution may suggest other problems, perhaps a conjecture, a generalization. We begin again. Done well, the process gives students a sense of excitement and wonderment for the beauty of higher mathematics.

This Session:

Stock photo of Soma Cubes. I'll cut a few hundred squares in my shop, and we'll glue them up to make Soma Cube puzzles.

Stock photo of Soma Cubes. I’ll cut a few hundred cubes in my shop, and we’ll glue them up in class to make Soma Cube puzzles.

I teach three Math Circle classes at Jefferson, Berkeley Arts Magnet, and Malcolm X schools. We will cover four new topics:

– constructions with compass and straightedge, hopefully rediscovering the beginning of Euclid’s geometry
– some math behind Braille + graphing our learning
– making and solving Soma Cube puzzles
– playing and understanding the game of Set

I’m excited to be doing two topics that get at spatial reasoning, as research indicates that girls especially can use more experience with this — and we’ll even have a tactile dimension with our Braille.

Math Circle students, last year at Jefferson, working on a problem that didn't want to end.

Math Circle students, last year at Jefferson, working on a problem that didn’t want to end.