All Posts By

Douglas O'Roark

What are math class and math circles for?

By | QED

I spend a lot of time thinking about how Math Circles of Chicago can be impactful. Many parents give us permission to see their children’s grades and standardized test scores. We have some evidence here and in our surveys, in testimonials we are sent, that we make a difference. While I’m happy that math circles does spillover into the math classroom, improving grades or performance in math class is not what math circles is for.

What I do think math circles is for is harder to measure. I’d like to see our students become more mathematically creative. I’d like them to see connections between different kinds of mathematics, and between mathematics and other subjects, including science and the arts. I’d like to increase the likelihood that our students take active pleasure in participating mathematics.

This is where QED, our math symposium, comes in. Grades and standardized tests don’t often measure creativity, passion, or independent thinking. At QED students identify their own question to answer and then they explore. If we draw an analogy between sports and mathematics, math class is practice; QED is the game (and perhaps math circles themselves are practice games, where every once in a while the coach steps in to provide feedback).

Yesterday I taught a math circle at Payton HS in our Cantor-A1/G program (students currently studying Algebra 1 and Geometry). I was excited about leading the session because it was based in a problem I had newly invented. As far as I know, my students engaged in a set of problems no one had ever tried before. As a teacher it’s a little unnerving to lead students in a session where you don’t know all of the answers, but it’s liberating too. By the end of session we reached a mathematical frontier, a place students in math rarely get to be.

I strongly encourage every math circle family to get involved with QED and let their child explore the mathematical frontier. Like all of our programs QED is free. It’s like a science fair, but it moves a bit faster and is more fun.  Some key information:

  • QED will be held on December 10th at Payton HS. See the QED webpage to learn more.
  • Once you have a project idea and a title you can pre-register. You must pre-register by November 28th.
  • You can enter a project with a partner! We support collaboration (and we support non-collaboration too; going solo is fine).
  • We have a cadre of graduate students and teachers that can advise students that need help getting started or who get stuck. Need help? Fill out this form. Have Questions? Write us at qed@mathcirclesofchicago.org!
  • A year ago I wrote this blog post with QED tips, based on interviews with some teachers that have sponsored many QED projects. This old post describes a day at QED, and this one is a primer on how to take an old problem and come up with a new one.

While I’m happy to hear that our students our doing well in school, I get excited when a student becomes a researcher. Creating new problems and grappling with them–that’s ultimately what I think math circles are for. Come to QED and see what it looks like!

Largest and Fastest: Updating our Plans

By | Uncategorized

For a few years we’ve made the claim that MC2 is the largest math circle in the world. It’s a claim that, admittedly, is hard to verify, but seems likely enough, particularly as we continue to grow.

We’re not done–in fact, we are hoping to claim that we are the fastest growing math circle program in the world too. Our plans for the upcoming school year:

  • We are doubling our capacity for 5th/6th (Haynes) and 7th/8th (Brahmagupta) at our Payton and UChicago Hubs. And Kovalevsky-A2/PC is returning to UChicago.
  • We will have 8 online sections of math circles this fall, up from 5 in the spring.
  • We will have 30+ after school programs (‘Math Circles in a Box’).  We are particularly interested in adding schools on the south and west sides.
  • We will hold community center programs in Pilsen and Woodlawn.
  • We will partner with MAPSCorps to offer statistics-based math circles in 4+ high schools.
  • If you are interested in starting a math circle at your own school, leading or assisting online, helping out at a community center or shelter, email us at info@mathcirclesofchicago.org. We need to have a fast growing teaching community too!

This expansion follows our doubling of enrollment (and the length!) of our summer programs this past July. (Check out the photos here!)

While it’s mathematically impossible for MC2 to be the fastest growing math circle program in the world forever, if we keep growing at this rate for eleven years every person living in Chicago will be attending our sessions.

Summer: Take 1

By | Uncategorized

Since we’re in Chicago, we know that winter is followed by Summer. So maybe it’s not too soon to start thinking about it?

This is the first of two posts I plan to make about summer math learning experiences. For the local opportunities, expect detailed application information by March. Some previews:

Math Circles of Chicago:

  • Rising 6th, 7th, and 8th/9th grade programs at two Hubs, with students from any school eligible to attend. These will meet mornings from 9AM-noon. These two week camps are projected to run from July 11th to July 22nd.
  • Rising 10th to 13th grade programs possibly in conjunction with colleagues at UIC. These will be weekly camps where students can participate for 1, 2, 3, or 4 weeks (each week will ‘stand alone’). Currently these are projected to run Between June 20th and July 15th.
  • We are hoping to offer another camp starting later in July or early August led by the prominent mathematician, author, pianist, and chef Eugenia Cheng!
  • These camps will be free.

UChicago Young Scholars:

  • UChicago YSP is one of the longest standing summer math camps in the country. Typically this camp starts the weekday after the 4th of July and continues for 4 weeks.
  • Look for their website to update in early spring with information about applying. Tuition is charged on a sliding scale.

Wolfram

  • Wolfram will decide whether it will have a high school camp in person or not this year by February 1st. If so, the camp will take place in Champaign Urbana.
  • Wolfram also offers a camp for middle school girls.
  • The camp will run from July 8th to the 23rd. Wolfram also provides a free coding ‘boot camp’ for the three days prior to the main camp.

Other options: Follow the link below to one of last year’s posts on summer programs, There are many national and online opportunities that you can pursue and that should be taking applicants soon!

QED Tips

By | QED, Uncategorized

Pre-Registration for QED, Chicago’s Youth Math Symposium, is open until November 13th. But now is the time to get started!

When talking to students and parents about QED, I’ve often emphasized that the hardest part of creating a project is getting started. We have QED brainstorming sessions to help students get over that hurdle. We held one such session today; here are a couple of research ideas participants developed:

  • What if you made a magic square, but instead of adding the numbers, you multiplied and divided them?
  • In how many ways can you color the sides of a square with four colors, if adjacent sides must be different colors?
  • What is the largest set of perfect fractions (unit fractions) that add up to one?
  • How many ways are there to cover a 6×8 lego piece with other bricks?

I also reached out to the greatest experts I know on the subject of school level math research. Julienne Au and Mike Caines sponsor more projects than any teachers in QED history. Some of their advice:

  • It takes time! Deciding on an idea takes time. Once you decide on an idea, it takes time to turn it into a project. There are often confusing results or dead ends in the process of investigating a problem. It takes time to work through these moments, but persistence will pay off. In no way should the time commitment dissuade anyone from working on a project. There are teachers and mentors who are here to share advice and help you through the problem solving process.
  • At the senior level, the hardest part seems to be selecting a topic.  It isn’t easy to find a project that has just the right amount of challenge but also hasn’t been done before.
  • Do not be afraid to ask questions and do not be afraid to make mistakes! Sometimes you get stuck when you’re working on a problem. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. The great thing about a project (versus a problem that you get in class) is that there isn’t a “right” answer or a “right” way to do the project. Asking questions and sharing your thoughts with others are great ways to figure out ways to tweak or adjust your project idea.
  • There are many possibilities you can explore and many chances to learn from your mistakes. Sometimes a mistake isn’t actually a mistake, but a step in a better direction. 
  • I like mathematical card tricks and games where you have to figure out some optimal strategy. Anything that gets the audience to participate in the problem solving process is really exciting for me to see!

And what do their students say about QED?

  • They have a great time! The games and QED day are lots of fun. After all is said and done, they are really grateful for the opportunity to talk about their projects with the judges. Some kids may not think of themselves as strong public speakers, but QED was an opportunity to share their thoughts about math and feel more comfortable and confident as a result.

Julia Robinson Math Festival Returns: May 29th!

By | Uncategorized

Our June 2020 Julia Robinson Math Festival was canceled like many major in person events. Now, in partnership with the national JRMF organization, Julia Robinson Math Festivals are back! We are offering an online festival for 3rd to 8th graders. Some key information:

  1. The event will run on Saturday, May 29th, from Noon to 2PM Central Time. Register here.
  2. The festival will be online, using the Gather.Town platform. Each participant will have an avatar and will be able to roam around the virtual festival, entering rooms by choice. Gather.Town has functions that allow you to connect to friends (so you can stick together, or find each other across the festival).
  3. Roughly speaking, the festival is for 3rd to 8th graders. Older MC2 students can email info@mathcirclesofchicago.org if they are interested in helping us host the festival.
A Screenshot from Gather.Town

Gather.Town will allow us to better simulate the environment of an in person festival–it will be the first festival every using this technology!There will be puzzles throughout the virtual space along with a variety of math circle like activities in individual rooms. The space will be geared to engage a range of students, with levels for beginners and more experienced math circlers, along with activities that will be facilitated in Spanish as well as English. It promises to be a fun experiment in conducting a high-agency, collaborative math virtual math world. Join us!

Have a Week or Four? Summer YSP at UIC & UChicago!

By | Uncategorized

Many MC2 students over the years have participated in UChicago’s Young Scholars Program. That program continues, but has now expanded to UIC! The key differences between the programs:

  • UChicago YSP is a 4 week commitment starting the week of July 5th, serving 7th to 12th graders. Their website should be updated with the Summer 2021 application soon.
  • UIC YSP is a series of four 1-week programs, the first starting on June 28th. You can participate in as many or as few as you’d like! Students must currently be in 9th to 12th grade (aka Rising 10th to 13th graders).

My colleague Will Perkins at UIC shared the following detail for UIC’s program:

This program is a fun introduction to exciting topics in mathematics, applications of mathematics, and the work mathematicians do in education, research, and industry. Each of the four one-week sessions will focus on a particular area of mathematics, not covered in a typical high school curriculum, and its applications to science, technology, and society.  The program is free to participate in and students may sign up for as many of the four sessions as they like.  Any student who was in high school during the 2020-2021 academic year is eligible to apply.  The program will take place in-person on UIC’s east campus and participants will follow the UIC Covid safety guidelines.Every day students will learn something new, get hands-on practice solving problems and exploring new topics, and hear a guest speaker describe their work and how it relates to mathematics. Students will learn what it’s like to major in math in college, learn about how math is used in different careers, and meet fellow students excited about learning math.

The program is run by UIC faculty, and instruction will be provided by UIC faculty and graduate students.

Each day will run from 9:30am to 3:00pm and the daily schedule will include

9:30-10:30: arrival and mathematical lecture
10:30-10:45 break
10:45-12:00 small group problem solving
12:00-1:00 lunch break
1:00-2:00 invited speaker or video
2:00-3:00 small group activities
3:00 dismissal

The topics of the four sessions will be:
Week 1 June 28 – July 2: Probability, games, and statistics
Week 2 July 6 – July 9: Number theory and cryptography
Week 3 July 12 – July 16: Graph theory
Week 4 July 19 – July 23: Algorithms and social networks
Each of the four sessions is independent and students may apply for as many or as few sessions as they want.
For more information and for a link to the application, see our website here: https://willp.people.uic.edu/YSP/

Virtual Summer (and Spring) 2021

By | Events

While schools are opening, the outlook for summer programs still looks virtual. While that’s disappointing for all of us who have been stuck at home, the good news is it does make national summer programs accessible–along with some spring programs as well.

1. Consider registering for the National Math Festival which will run April 16th-18th. It’s a chance for kids of all ages to interact with the world’s most interesting mathematicians!

2. The Museum of Math’s Summer Programs will be held from June 28th to September 3rd. You can sign up by the week (sessions are 9AM-3PM eastern, aka 8AM-2PM Central time), and they have programs for students in three grade bands–rising 1st-3rd, 4th-6th, or 7th-9th.

3. Wolfram produces the ultimate math software, Mathematica. For many years Wolfram has supported MC2’s Annual Symposium, QED.

The week of June 14th Wolfram’s Middle School Summer Camp is open to middle school girls ages 11-14. Admissions are on a rolling basis, so apply soon! Participating students will learn to think computationally in order to address problems in math, the humanities, or whatever is of individual interest. Their high school camp runs from July 1st to the 17th, and mixes, science, math, and technology.

4. The Summer STEM Institute runs for six weeks starting on June 20th. It’s a research and data science boot camp, a lecture series, and mentorship program all rolled up into one. Apply by April 16th; you must be at least 13.

5. High Schoolers, want to learn about Artificial Intelligence? AI Foundry is a 10 week bootcamp led by AI researchers, inspired by Stanford’s AI curriculum. You can learn more about the AI Foundry Program through their website: https://www.thenextepoch.com, and interested students can apply here. You’ll want to hurry, since the program starts on April 10th (application due by 4/4)!

6. Math Circles of Chicago does plan to offer camps for rising 6th, 7th, and 8th graders, and possibly high school students. We expect our camps to run in July, and expect to make an announcement about the registration process in the next few weeks!

7. To learn about other camps, check out this blog post from last year. 🙂

Finally, teachers, think about applying to the Park City Math Institute. Applications are due by April 5th–it will change your life!

So Many Online Options

By | Uncategorized

MC2 continues this winter and spring online; for the moment we hope we’ll be back in person this summer. In the fall, when it seems almost certain that our in person sites will re-open, we will maintain our online sessions to provide access to students who couldn’t participate otherwise. Like many organizations, we’ve found that one of the few silver linings of the pandemic is that we’ve learned to adapt to the online setting to further our mission.

Online options provide greater access to great programs everywhere. Our colleagues across the country provide a range of opportunities:

1 The Julia Robinson Math Festival

Prior to the pandemic, JRMF’s main activity was to support groups across the county to hold local in-person math festivals. MC2’s festival takes place every June, for example. Since March JRMF has undergone a remarkable shift. Their weekly webinars introduce a new activity every week.

2 Museum of Math

When MoMath reopens it’s well worth a visit (11 East 26th St. in NYC). In the meantime, they have a wide variety of virtual programs, from social gatherings for tweens and teens to Family Fridays (think origami) to summer camps and more.

3 Art of Problem Solving

AoPS has been the premier online math enrichment site for many years. For students interested in taking math courses that go beyond the standard curriculum, it’s the place to be. AoPS is also a platform for the math contest community–their Community Forums have a wide variety of discussion topics.

4 MathCommunities.org

The American Institute of Mathematics provides links to their own programs (e.g. ‘Math Mondays’) along with those of their partners.

Survey Says: Thank You Teachers

By | Uncategorized

As MC2 has expanded over the last five years, we’ve kept an eye on our surveys. We don’t want to increase enrollment at the expense of lowering the quality of our programs. I’m happy to say that the fall results are in, and 92% of our students Agree or Strongly Agree with the statement, “Overall I am very satisfied with my experience in math circles.” 84% said MC2 made them more interested in math.

Given that we’ve been online, it’s a testament to our teachers that these satisfaction rates are so high. Our students wrote things like, “I really liked the kindness of everybody,” “My teachers were great, that’s the only note I wanted to share. I had a fun time!”, and “The teachers were really nice and made me want to come to the meetings!”

We survey our teachers too. 98% agreed that, “I am highly satisfied with my work as a Math Circles instructor.”

Peyton Morgan, pictured here, led 8 MC2 sessions at 3 sites this fall.

I think the number 2 reason why we do our work well is that we have the right values–empowerment, inclusion, access, student agency, and the promotion of student collaboration. But the #1 reason for the quality of our work is that we have over 60 teachers that are committed to these values. Many of these teachers lead very busy lives, yet make the time to teach MC2 sessions on late afternoons and on weekends.

Moreover, we managed to have three teachers at almost every online session this fall. This could have been an overwhelming financial burden to our organization, but many of these teachers taught voluntarily. I particularly want to thank the undergraduate and high school students who stepped up when we made a plea for volunteers in September so we could meet the demand for our online programs.

It’s the time of the year to give thanks. Thank you to our teachers, without which MC2 wouldn’t exist, but more importantly our teachers are the reason why MC2 is so good at what it does!

 

Our Fall Plan

By | Uncategorized

Planning for our fall sessions is happening in earnest. We will, of course, be online, so we have a lot of planning to do. Last spring when we went online we held only a limited number of sessions at three program levels; this fall all five of our program levels will meet again. Some key things to note:

1. Fall Registration

Pre-registration for our fall programs will open the week of August 31st. Our lottery will run on September 19th, and remaining spots will be available on a first come first serve basis. Students who were enrolled in our spring in person programs can re-enroll at the site they were assigned to in the spring.

2. Offerings

Although our sessions will be online, we will continue to use our site names–in effect, a site is really a grouping of sessions taking place at the same time.

  • Back of the Yards sessions will continue to meet Saturdays at 10AM; UChicago and Payton will meet Saturdays at 1PM (with a 2nd round of Haynes-5/6 sessions at 2:30PM).
    • All Saturday sites will hold Haynes-5/6, Brahmaupta-7/8, and Cantor-A1/Geo sessions
    • Kovalevsky-A2/PC sessions will be part of our Payton site (but not UChicago)
    • Euler sessions will be part of our UChicago site (but not Payton)
    • When we return to in person sessions, we will again hold Kovalevsky-A2/PC and Euler at both Payton and UChicago.
  • Our after school sites will all meet at 4:30PM.
    • Mondays: Morgan Park, Haynes-5/6, Brahmaupta-7/8
    • Tuesdays: Bridgeport, Haynes-5/6, Brahmaupta-7/8
    • Wednesdays: Little Village, Haynes-5/6
    • Thursdays: Lane Tech, Haynes-5/6, Brahmaupta-7/8, and Cantor-A1/Geo sessions
    • (Our Pilsen site will resume when we go back to in person meetings)

All of our Haynes-5/6, Brahmagupta-7/8, and Cantor-A1/Geo sessions will meet for 75 minutes. Kovalevsky-A2/PC and Euler online sessions will be 90 minutes. You can find the meeting dates for all of our sites here. You can find descriptions of our program levels here.

Of course, online sites are equally accessible to anyone with a computer and wifi not matter where you live–keep two things in mind when you rank your choices: (1) Once we return to in person sessions, you can re-enroll at the site that you last attended; (2) your personal schedule. That’s it–you’re welcome to attend at any site that fits your schedule!

3. QED, Chicago’s Youth Math Symposium

We are committed to holding an online version of QED this year. Our anticipated date is December 5th, although this may change depending on circumstances. As our plans become firm we will share more information!

4. New Site

Since 2015 we’ve added 5 sites as we’ve grown to serve nearly 800 students in our academic year program. Adding one new site in the fall has become a habit, and our plan had been to add a new site this fall until Covid made that a near impossibility. However, once we are able to return to in person meetings at our current 8 sites, we will immediately add a new 9th site: ‘Online’. Our mission is to create opportunities for all children in Chicago to build a passion for mathematics, and it’s clear that an online site will provide access to more children than ever before!

5. Math Circles in a Box: MC2iaB

Last year we piloted a new program: MC2iaB. MC2 sessions were held in after school programs in Little Village Academy and Goudy Elementary. This year we are expanding to 15 schools across the city, with an emphasis in the Back of the Yards, Little Village, and Austin communities. We provide teachers at local schools math circle plans, workshops, and coaching to help them develop as math circle leaders. If you know a middle school teacher who might be interested in participating in the MC2iaB program, have them complete this form.