Sunnyside Environmental School Math Circle

new: I'm writing about math circle in my blog

How can I participate? (as a parent / volunteer)

As either a parent or a volunteer, the main way to help is to let the students discover the answers by themselves! This is the main philosophy of the Math Circle. It's not always easy (for the guides or the students), but it's how real mathematicians work, and that's what we're after.

Do I need to be a math expert to be a guide?

No! You will need to prepare, but the whole point of Math Circles is than anyone can be a mathematician - it's a way of approaching problems, not an innate ability.

Are there any materials to help guides?

Yes - Math Circles are pretty new. In fact, the best book about them was just published in 2007. It's called Out of the Labyrinth - Setting Mathematics Free, by Bob and Ellen Kaplan. Highlights from the book (for busy parents) include chapters one (a sample session), five (demystifying math), eight (philosophy), and nine (help for guides).

This approach to math is not new. This book from 1986, Family Math by Jean Kerr Stenmark, Virginia Thompson and Ruth Cossey, has lots of activities. Many of them could be the seeds of Math Circle sessions.

A related movement is underway in Canada. The book The Myth of Ability, by John Mighton describes a program called JUMP - Junior Undiscovered Math Prodigies. It started as a math tutoring program, and is evolving into a curriculum revolution within Canada. If I may be so bold to summarize, it nurtures math ability by carefully sequencing materials to build confidence, encourages teachers to build math self-esteem, and provides parallel tracks so faster students don't get bored, but nobody gets left behind. I would be happy if this kind of curriculum were adopted in the U.S., but I would still advocate after-school Math Circles - these efforts complement each other.

In my opinion, computer science is a branch of mathematics; one that is concerned with process and dynamics. Computer science is not the study of computers any more than astronomy is the study of telescopes. The free book, Computer Science Unplugged by Tim Bell, Ian H. Whitten and Mike Fellows has a bunch of activities that teach computer science concepts without using computers. It's cool stuff, and it would be fun to use some of these in our math circle.

I have an hour-long video of Bob and Ellen Kaplan running a demonstration math circle. I can loan it to anyone interested, or we could plan to have a volunteers gathering in which we watch it and discuss plans.

Is this going to be coordinated with the classroom?

Yes, the guides will work with our teachers to make sure the Math Circle activities are coordinated with the classroom work - it would be nice to figure out how to complement the classroom, and at least avoid cross-purposes.

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