Summer Thanks!

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Our camps at Zizumbo and Payton have now concluded, and I wanted to give a few words of thanks! To Chris Allen, Cynthia Ortiz, and the staff at Zizumbo, thank you for being so welcoming! This was our first summer on the southwest side, and it was a pleasure to spend time in such a beautiful building with such a wonderful staff!

At Payton, thanks going out to Mary Grubich and David Adamji for coordinating the space, and to Judy, Cookie, and the rest of the team for taking care of us every day. Math Circles of Chicago launched at Payton eight years ago, and it still feels like home.

Finally, the greatest part of our success is a result of the hard work of our teaching staff: Amanda Ruch, Rutha Dixon, Graham Rosby, Lisa Cash, Alison Ridgway, ably supported by Rileigh Luczak, Nina Tansey, Lauren Sands, Michael Klychmann, Isabel Juarez, and Kara Fischer–thanks to you all!

The best way I can recognize our teachers and counselors is through sharing survey comments parents made at the end of the camp:

  • My daughter used to love math. After a few years of bad math experiences, my daughter hated math. Thank you for helping her find her way back to her love of this subject!
  • I loved seeing E, work on the problems at home. He was eager and driven to solve the problems. (particularly math hall of fame.)
  • My daughter has had a 20+ point gain and received an A letter grade in math since participating in this program
  • A. has passed math and didn’t believe she could do it. At camp she was challenged and enjoyed having a voice.
  • My daughter was very hesitant about coming to Math Circles and repeatedly told me “I do not need help in math”. I told her it wasn’t really about help but having fun w/ math. After the first day, she came home so happy and couldn’t wait to go back.
  • My son inherited my math anxiety, it’s been hard for him, and occasionally teachers at school have been overwhelmed and less than helpful when he’s had difficulties. This has been so helpful! I appreciate it so much! It’s so much more help!
  • She has learned how to apply math outside of the classroom setting. She has always enjoyed math and understood it. Now, she knows some different strategies to solve certain problems; which is so much more interesting.
  • My child was exposed to mostly drill and practices kind of math. And as a result didn’t like math. To him math is something he has to do in school. But through math circles he now tasted the creative + engaging side of math. He is interested in math.
  • Math Circles allowed my son to work together with other kids his own age solving challenging math problems, & had fun while he also made new friends from different parts of the city. He learned to see math in a different light beyond typical classroom problems.

Julia Robinson 2019: Best Ever!

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315 people–that’s the way to end the year! We were happy to host our largest group ever for a Julia Robinson Math Festival. Woohoo!

Thanks again to Matt Moran who put the event together, and the wide range of people who ran the tables:

  • Professors Eugenia Cheng, Dhruv Mubayi, Selma Yildirim
  • Teachers Martin Bentley, Serg Cvetkovic, Christine Kim, Joe Ochiltree, Eric Rios, Graham Rosby, Sanya Singh, and Angela Tobias
  • Doctoral Students Hana Ahreum, Sara Rezvi, and Sarah Reitzes
  • Undergraduate Math and Math Ed Major Peter Smith
  • Tech Guru Abhinav Gandhi
  • Parents Kristin Merrill and Donella Taylor

A very special day–I’ll post some photos in a minute!


Primary Math Circles?

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The question I’m asked most frequently is, “Can my 4th graders come to math circles?” The answer is generally no (see our FAQ here).

Irene Gottlieb asked the same question, but she refused to take no for an answer. Instead, she went off and started a math circle on her own!

Interested? If you have a child in 1st to 4th grade check out Irene’s website. This is not an MC2 program, but it’s in the same spirit–it’s free!

Their next session will be on June 17th, and it meets in Chicago at a trampoline park. What’s not to like?

Congratulations: QED Turns Gold; Tricolorability for Pre-Teens

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When our judges saw Lillian Jirousek’s project at QED they were blown away. Now they aren’t the only ones.

Congratulations to Lillian for earning best in category (math!) at the state science fair, which came with a $2,000 scholarship! In her project, “The Mercurial Matrix,” Lillian explored the relationship between the adjacency matrix and walks on graphs.

Kudos for Amanda Ruch and Sara Rezvi for recently publishing, Untangling the “Knot” Your Typical Math Problem in the 25th Anniversary issue of Teaching Children Mathematics. Sara and Amanda based their article on an activity they implemented in MC2’s summer camp in 2018. Amanda is the lead teacher for MC2’s Haynes level (5th and 6th graders); Sara is the city wide lead for Brahmagupta (7th and 8th graders).

Amanda and Sara’s lesson concerned ways in which mathematicians can use the tricolorability to distinguish knots. Pulling off this topological lesson for 5th and 6th graders involved pipe cleaners, colored pencils, and a willingness to explore.

Congratulations to you all!

An End of the Year Celebration in the Form of a Festival

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Please join us in closing out the school year by attending our 3rd annual Julia Robinson Math Festival!

Where:             Payton Prep, 1034 N. Wells

When:              Saturday, June 1st, 1PM-3PM

Who:                 3rd-8th Graders and their parents

What:               A gymnasium filled with more than a dozen activities featuring unusual, fun, weird, inspiring, easy/hard/everything in between, MATH!

How do I sign up?

See you there!

PS. Teachers and high schoolers–please volunteer to help us run this thing! Email if you are interested. 🙂

Hermione Granger was a Terrible Student

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MC2 teachers across the city write each other all of the time to make suggestions and improve our plans.

After teaching last week at Lane Tech, Peter Smith reflected, “I had initially thought that the students would struggle with this problem, since I know I did when I first encountered it. However, about a third of the class instantly knew the punchline.” His question: What should we do when this happens?

This is a question for both teachers and students. I was reminded of Hermione Granger in Harry Potter. Hermione always knew the answers, and her response to this situation was inevitably the same: she raised her hand as quickly as possible, waved that hand aggressively, and immediately blurted out the answer.

I’d like the Hermiones out there to know there are other options.

  1. Help others. This can be the 2nd worst option after blurting out. It all depends on the help you offer. Students (and teachers) often ask leading questions. My standard bad example is, “Could you use the Pythagorean Theorem?”
  2. Ask others non-leading questions. The best questions in a math class are those that transfer to many other questions. Here’s a better question: “Do you know any related theorems?” Other questions to try: “What’s the unknown?” “Can you make a table?” “Can you make a simpler problem?” The beauty of transferable questions is that you are teaching someone a habit of mind–questions they can always ask themselves whenever they get stuck.
  3. Wait. Give everyone else time to think. Works for students and teachers alike.
  4. Try to solve the problem in a new way. You might already know the answer because someone showed you how to do it before. Can you come up with your own method?
  5. Create your own problem. Generalize. Take a 2 dimensional problem and make it 3 dimensional. Change the rules of the game. A great way to pass the time as you give others time to think for themselves.

We can all out perform Hermione in the classroom if we can learn to assert less, ask more, and create our own challenges. And, most importantly, we’ll be better students and teachers if we concern ourselves with everyone’s learning, rather than only our own!

Summer, Shirts, and Spring

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Summer Camps

Registration for our FREE, 2 week summer camps opens on Monday! Please note that our high school camp will be led by the inestimable Eugenia Cheng, mathematician, author, pianist, chef, and scientist in residence at the Art Institute. Dr. Cheng plans to write a book based on the mathematics she teaches in math circles this summer!

Camp 1: Zizumbo/Torres School, 4248 W. 47th St.

Current 5th-8th graders

Monday-Friday, 9:00AM-Noon, July 15th-26th

Camp 2: Payton Prep, 1034 N. Wells

Current 5th-8th graders

Monday-Friday, 9:00AM-Noon, July 15th-26th

Camp 3: Jones Prep, 700 S. State

Current 9th-12th graders

Monday-Friday, Noon-3:00PM, July 22nd-August 2nd

Registration will open on Monday, March 11th, and we will run our lottery on Sunday, March 31st. Priority will be given to kids who have been enrolled in math circles during this current school year.


Our new shirts will be arriving this week. Look for them to be on sale at a math circle near you! Special thanks to Jen Zimmerman, our UChicago site coordinator, for her design! Jen shows yet again that she can do anything. 🙂 

Spring Registration

While the lottery has run, registration is still open, with spots available on a first come, first serve basis!

The Art of Podcasting

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When I was in high school, a favorite movie was a signifier of identity. At the time, I thought that the film Repo Man had changed my life. Now I’m more likely to share my favorite podcasts as cultural markers: Reply AllThe NodStay Tuned with Preet.

Last week I was thrilled to discover that the Art of Problem Solving has launched a new podcast called After Math. Richard Rusczyk hosts the show and has put out four episodes to date. I’ve been aware of Richard’s work since he started AoPS and also through the elegant problems he wrote for the Mandelbrot Competition (which was much more about beautiful mathematics than competition).

MC2 students will be familiar with After Math’s first guest, Po-Shen Loh, who has given a couple of MC2 hosted talks. They are also likely to be familiar with the work of Eli Luberoff, the creator of Desmos. If I had to choose an episode to start with, however, I’d recommend the one that features Meena Boppana.

Meena is an advocate for increasing diversity in STEM, and her conversation with Richard initially centers on her experience as a girl and young woman in math classes and enrichment settings (MathCounts, Harvard). The podcast is extremely thoughtful about issues of identity and the way in which the ‘math world’ is, and how it is changing. I found Meena to be an inspiration, and I’m sure that others in the MC2 community will too!