What is a Math Circle?
Math circles are enrichment programs for participants to investigate math non-competitively. For pre-college students this generally means studying mathematics not in the standard school curriculum, for example:
Graph theory, a college math subject with many problems that are accessible to kids of all ages. “Can you walk and cross all of the bridges once without going over any bridge twice?”
Combinatorics, studied in high school but often not in depth. “In how many ways can you color the sides of an equilateral triangle given two colors? Three colors? More?”
The Pigeon Hole Principle, an elementary idea that can be applied in many different contexts, but is not an explicit part of what is studied in schools. “Must there exist two people on earth with the same number of hairs on their head?…”
Questions like these engage students and give them entry into the deep ideas of mathematics and push them to begin to actively pursue their own mathematical research.
The Math Circles of Chicago focus on grades 5-12. MC2 is committed to providing enrichment for children throughout Chicago. Ultimately we seek to provide circles located citywide for any student interested in pursuing mathematics beyond the classroom. We also manage QED, the Chicago Youth Math Symposium.
Math Circles: A Brief History
Math circles have been in existence for about a century, originating in Bulgaria and Russia. A significant number of mathematics professors in these countries had formative experiences in math circles. Their history in the US goes back about 30 years, and prominent Math Circles in America include those at Berkeley and UCLA.
In Chicago, the Payton Math Circle was founded in 2011. Teachers from several schools in the city (Payton, Whitney Young, Lane Tech, Lindblom, etc.) have led sessions there, along with graduate students and faculty from Chicago’s universities. Payton’s circle serves students in 5th to 12th grades in seven separate groups, and meets on Saturdays throughout the year. In 2012, a new circle was founded at Audubon Elementary School, which moved to Lane Tech at the start of the 2014 school year. In 2014 a third circle was opened in Chicago’s Bridgeport neighborhood and operates in Benton House, a community center. These latter two sites host middle school students and were an outgrowth of the efforts of doctoral students in UIC’s Mathematics Department.
In 2015 the Math Circles of Chicago introduced two new sites. In Pilsen we partner with Mujeres Latinas en Accion to run a weekly math circle in MLEA’s Youth Center. This site serves 6th to 12th graders and meet on a weeknight like the circles at Bridgeport and Lane Tech. We’ve partnered with the Young Scholars Program in order to help maintain their Academic Year program at the University of Chicago (the YSP summer program is popular with many strong math students in the metropolitan area). The UChicago YSP Math Circle serves 5th to 12th graders, and meets on Saturdays.
In the fall of 2017, the expansion of the Math Circles of Chicago continues. We’ve added our 6th site at Little Village Lawndale High School, serving 5th to 8th graders. We also doubled the size of our program at Bridgeport so that it also serves all of the middle school grades, added a 5th/6th grade program at UChicago, and a Cantor program at Lane Tech (students currently studying high school level Algebra 1 or Geometry).
In the interest of promoting school aged students to do independent mathematical research, QED, Chicago’s Youth Math Symposium was created in 2013. This annual event is also sponsored by the Math Circles of Chicago, and is held in December. The spirit of QED is much like that of a science fair, with math students producing extended mathematical research, often based on extensions of problems they have studied in the classroom or in a mathematics competition.