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.