Giving the Gift of Math

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My favorite toy when I was a child was the Soma Cube. Ostensibly the puzzle is to take the seven pieces and form a cube, but my Soma came with a booklet that displayed dozens of other 3d shapes to make, and I spent many hours trying to solve them all.

Puzzles like the Soma (or books like these or games like these) had a greater influence on me then any school math class. With the holiday gift giving approaching, I surveyed some of my MC2 friends to see what other toys or games they remembered from their childhoods.

Julienne Au was full of suggestions. Like me, she loves spirographs. This wikipedia entry gives the mathematical underpinnings of spirographs; I’m reminded of the pre-Copernican model of the motion of the planets, as described in Kuhn’s “Copernican Revolution,” which I highly recommend!

Ms. Au’s favorite puzzle is Izzi, another classic like the Soma Cube. She also likes 24, Chocolate Fix (which we played at our Julia Robinson Math Festival in June), and modular origami–here, you fold several pieces of paper each into a ‘unit’, and then combine the units into a larger model. When I first started teaching I was introduced to this technique through the work of Tomoko Fuse–check out this tutorial based on Fuse’s work. Used copies of Fuse’s “Unit Origami: Multidimensional Transformations” can be picked up cheap!

Matt Moran went with a classic–Connect 4. This game has been solved, although with 4,531,985,219,092 game positions I doubt this will influence your own game play. And finally, PJ Karafiol suggested Meta-Forms–like Chocolate Fix or the ever popular Traffic Jam puzzle, Meta-Forms start out easy but get progressively harder.

We at MC2 are looking forward to seeing you in January. In the mean time, play with some mathematical toys, games, and books, and give the gift of math!


Saving Face(book); Giving (Tuesday) Thanks

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Dear MC2 Community, thank you for:

  • Your generous giving on Giving Tuesday, before, and after!
  • Supporting QED, where 135 kids produced remarkable projects that left judges–PhD students, mathematicians, postdocs, outstanding school teachers–saying: “The students were once again, awesome!” and “[The best part was] being able to see so many fascinating problems/projects that students worked on. Some of them blew me away!”
  • Allowing me to say, “If you can arrange for a van to circulate to your schools and pick up kids for math circles, our community will raise the money to pay for it,” yesterday at a gathering of elementary school principals in Little Village.
  • Giving MC2 the support to visit Back of the Yards, Ashburn, and Morgan Park next week with the confidence that we will be able to open at least one new math circle this fall!

According to #ILGive, MC2 is a small non-profit, which they define as an organization with a budget less than $2,000,000, and I can assure you that we qualify. Because of the commitment of our community, we are receiving a $2,000 prize from #ILGive for “Most Unique Donors by Budget” (small non-profit category)!

On Giving Tuesday we raised $21,000, and with this $2,000 prize we were within $7,000 of our Giving Tuesday goal. People have kept on giving, and we have raised $4,000 more in the past week and a half; we are hoping to top $30k by the end of December–in other words, it’s not too late to give! See our December Drive page.

I was busily posting about our fundraiser on GT and tagging many friends and former students. Facebook decided that my activity was ‘unusual’ and booted me out of my account! Suffice to say as the leader of a non-profit, Giving Tuesday is not a great day to be locked out of the largest social network in the world.

Fortunately, I tapped into my teacher social network, and while Facebook does not have phone, email, or chat support, I had my secret weapon–former student support. I want to thank Adam Fishman, now Facebook employee, who got me back into my account, and who also gave a generous gift to our campaign. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that PJ Karafiol, our board chair, learned of my struggles and reached out to my former students on Facebook and raised $1,600 in my name while I was in Facebook purgatory–and which he then MATCHED.

So thanks everyone, thanks Adam, and thanks PJ! 🙂


QED: Quite (an) Excellent Day

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Our research symposium is a wrap! Last Saturday 130 students attended the latest annual QED, and the consensus was that this was our most outstanding symposium to date!

Check out our photographs in the post below to get of a sense of what a special day it was! There are lots of thanks to go around:

  • Lawrence Tanzman, MC2 Board Member, and senior Jason Chen, QED participant(!) ran our annual Guesstimathon. (For those not in the know, the Guesstimathon asks participants to guess a range of values for certain fun facts–highlights from this year included, “The number of people who watched all episodes of ‘Stranger Things 2’ within 24 hours of its release,” and, “The number of tweets President Donald Trump has made on his account as of December 1st, 2017.” No technology allowed to help guess the answers, of course!)
  • UIC’s Daniel Groves gave our keynote address, focusing on geometry, starting in the plane and ending up on the sphere, giving a flavor of what non-Euclidean geometry is for the novice.
  • Our 32 judges hailed from across the mathematical spectrum:
    • Postdocs, graduate students, and undergraduate students from UIC, UChicago, and DePaul–Ben Usha, Tim Black, Maxime Bergeron, Janet Page, Samuel Dodds, Mariya Sardarli, and Nathan Lopez, along with professor Lynn Narasimhan.
    • Community members with math and science backgrounds–John Brown, Hal Finkel, Nate Harman, Peyton Morgan, Jerry Winn, Jim Mallernee, Kelly Hally (math circle parent!), Rob Creel, Oren Livne, Peter Morfe, Zach Fogelson, Nolan Winkler, Jesse Wang, and Lucie Weng.
    • Middle and high school teachers–Joe Ochiltree, Rutha Dixon, Matt Rosenberg, Serg Cvetkovic, Stu Abram, Aimee Hart, Alison Ridgway, Mike Calderbank, along with PJ Karafiol, who is now a principal but is still a math teacher at heart!
  • Our sponsors: Dell, which gave out drones(!) to some of our high school participants; Wolfram, which shared many prizes and is providing free access to Mathematica and Wolfram Alpha to every student who had a project in QED; the American Mathematical Society, which donated over $2,000 in books to give away; and Citadel, which paid for tshirts, pizza, and some truly excellent ear muffs along with other gifts. Moreover, several Citadel employees helped judge QED projects!
  • A special thanks to Benjamin Walker who took most of the photos in our montage below.
  • The folks behind the scenes who organized the judging and kept the event running smoothly–Julienne Au, Matt Moran, Mike Caines, Dan Kang, and Scott Galson.
  • Finally, thanks to all of the teachers who supported these students create such outstanding projects. 🙂

QED 2018 will be held on Saturday, December 1st. Get those projects started now!

December 2nd: Come Visit QED!

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135 kids are registered for QED, Chicago’s Youth Math Research Symposium. A sampling of projects that have been proposed:

  • Do Magic Rectangles Exist?
  • The Missing Box: A Counting Problem
  • Triangulating the Bullseye: Odd sided n-gons and figurate numbers
  • Dividing the Pirate Booty
  • The Collatz Conjecture
  • McGuire the Gathering: The Battle of Probability
  • Variations of Sprouts
  • The Growing Painted Cube Problem
  • Pascal’s Triangle Reformatted
  • Tessellation Concentration
  • Torus Tic-Tac-Toe
  • Combinatorics on a Chessboard
  • Quotientdoku
  • 78,962,609,037,312,000 Ways to Keep Troublemakers Apart
  • The Careless Waiter Problem: An Exploration of Multinomial Coefficients
  • Mouse Trap Adapted
  • Non-Transitive Dice and Probability
  • Counting Castles

If you missed registration but would like to check out QED, email to register as a guest. You can come see projects from 12:20-1:00, and hear our speaker Daniel Groves at 1:00PM, all on December 2nd. Join us!

Have I got a question for you?

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This past Saturday we held our first QED (Chicago’s Youth Math Research Symposium) Brainstorming sessions at Payton. I worked with kids and parents to come up with as many math research questions as possible in 45 minutes. Some results:

  • Ten people have a secret. These people gossip in pairs, and can share up to 3 secrets when such a pairing occurs. If they meet at random, what’s the probability that everyone will know all of the secrets after 30 meetings?
  • How many 10 digit palindromes are divisible by 11?
  • A 3×3 grid is made of toothpicks, and each toothpick has a color. How many colors do you need if 2 toothpicks can’t share the same color if they touch?
  • There are slots to place numbers at the vertices of a cube, and at the midpoint of each edge. If each slot is filled with a number from 1 to 20, and each number is used only once, can you make the sum of the numbers on each face of the cube be the same? If so, in how many ways can you do it?
  • Consider a triangle’s vertices and its midpoints (like the previous problem); there are multiple ways to place the numbers 1 to 6 in these ‘slots’ to make each side of the triangle have the same sum. Add a triangle by adjoining two more sides (and thus 3 more slots); repeat the puzzle with this figure, using the numbers 1 to 9. If you get that, keep adding to your row of triangles and repeat!

Everyone that attended found it liberating to spend our time just posing questions. Sign up and join us next weekend at math circles next weekend at UChicago to try it out! And if you can’t make it, the problems above are fair game for a QED project; everyone at Payton kept their favorites–these are the leftovers. 🙂

Drones from Dell for QED

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In this day and age, when people you don’t know reach out to offer you something for free, it’s hard to believe it.

A week ago I got an email from Jessa Carey: “I came across your Math Fair and was wondering if I could have more information about it? DELL would like to donate a product to your prize table.” It sounded too good to be true, but it isn’t! I’m happy to announce that Jessa and her friends at the Dell K12 Initiative are giving 6 drones to give away at QED on December 2nd.

We are grateful to Dell for both seeking us out and supporting us so generously. Jessa will be attending QED this year, and I look forward to meeting her and thanking her in person!


Let’s Brainstorm QED Projects!

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QED is Chicago’s annual Math Youth Symposium. Each of the last two years we’ve had 130 kids come to QED, but with 570 kids participating in MC2 this fall, we want MORE.

Typically project ideas come from taking a problem you’ve already done and changing the rules. Last spring I modeled this using ticktacktoe–check out this old blog post to start stretching your problem posing muscles.

We know that the biggest barrier to entering QED is coming up with a project idea. With that in mind, we are holding QED Brainstorming sessions on October 28th at Payton and November 4th at UChicago, with sessions starting at 1:00PM and 2:15PM. Sign up here.

If you are a Haynes or Brahmagupta student at Payton or UChicago, you can simply sign up to attend the session that takes place when you are not in your math circle (for example, if you are a 2:15PM student, sign up for the 1:00 brainstorming session). Of course, kids at our other sites are welcome to sign up too! (Students in Cantor–we will also try to do some QED brainstorming during our 4th session this fall; Kovalevsky and Euler students, talk to your session leaders for ideas).

QED will be held on December 2nd, but the pre-registration deadline is November 10th. For 5th to 8th graders, you can pre-register and then continue to work right up until December. High schoolers, you need to submit your project paper by November 10th. In all cases, we hope to see you on December 2nd!



Take a Chance–Kovalevsky Day: November 4th

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Sonia Kovalevsky Day is back at UIC! Girls in grades 8-12 are invited to “Sonia Kovalevsky Day: Games of Chance”.  The day starts at 10:30 and continues until 3:00PM.

There will be sessions on the Monty Hall Problem, Non-Transitive Dice, and more. Free shirts, free food, free math–what’s not to like?!

Learn more and register.

P.S. Girls who attend the UChicago Math Circle who will miss that day, just let us know you attended SK day and we will count you present. 🙂

Fermi’s Saturday Morning Physics

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Most of our high school students participating in Math Circles do so on Saturday afternoons, and as I recently mentioned, UIC’s Alexander Furman runs the UIC Math Olympiad Project on Friday evenings. The natural question is–how do I fill my time in between? 

Good news! Registration is open for Fermi Lab’s Saturday Morning Physics program until October 14th! Sessions start on 9/30 and then sessions continue most Saturdays until December 9th. They suggest that you have some high school Physics and exposure to Algebra 2 to participate.

I admit that getting back to UChicago or Payton for math circles on Saturday afternoons may be a challenge, but this is such a great opportunity that I had to mention it. Plus, Fermi Lab seeks 15-25 interns each summer for their TARGET program, a paid internship (and they do help Chicago kids with transportation during the summer, picking up and dropping off at the end of the blue line).