Blog Archives

An Online Problem Solving Course for Young Kids

logo for young mooc math class

We’ve mentioned the work of James Tanton, Maria Droujkova, and Yelena McManaman before, and now they have teamed up to offer a one month long online math problem solving course. mpsMOOC13: Problem Solving for the Young, the Very Young, and the Young at Heart revolves around a small set of accessible nonstandard math problems that kids and parents solve together. The solutions and discussions are recorded and reported on the course website resulting in a community-generated math education research project.

The course has already started, but you can still do all of the problems and follow the discussions. If you’re homeschooling this course will be especially useful, and you should stay tuned for similar future courses from this team.

K-12 Science and Engineering Workshops at MIT

Edgerton outreach logo

One problem that online learning, with all of its obvious advantages, cannot currently solve is how to bring hands-on learning to students. Luckily, quite a few colleges and universities offer out of school STEM programs that complement videos and textbooks, and MIT is no exception. If you’re anywhere near the Greater Boston area you can schedule a free group workshop at the Edgerton Center at MIT, which runs a variety of science and engineering programs for kids of all ages. The activities, which are run by MIT undergraduate and graduate students, include working with electrical circuitry and exploring chemical reactions. For those who want more time to learn and build, longer summer programs are available, but you need to sign up early as they are quite popular. Below is a video that captures some of the spirit of the Edgerton Center.

Google Science Fair 2013: Pre-College Research Recognized

Google Science Fair

Winning science competitions is clearly not a requirement for future successful scientific careers, and the winners of these competitions are not necessarily geniuses, although they are definitely bright. That said, an event like the Google Science Fair can be a good motivator for students. This annual event lets students from all over the world submit their research projects online, which are then evaluated by a panel of experts that includes Nobel laureates. The winners receive various awards and there are several age categories with their own prizes, but of course the future opportunities that come with winning are the greatest reward. Perhaps, the most important lesson from such a competition is that learning should not be limited by school textbooks and that sufficiently motivated students can go far if they follow their intellectual curiosity. If you have a science fair project ready you still have a week to submit it. Even if you don’t take part this year, following the work of the winners is an educational experience in itself. Good luck!

How to Start Your Own Math Circle or Enrichment Program

math circle session

Traditionally, math enrichment programs are run by professional mathematicians with an interest in education or by teachers with an interest in math competitions, but for most other people the idea of starting their own program seems like a daunting task. Fortunately, a few years ago, Sam Vandervelde and the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute put together Circle in a Box, a definitive guide on starting your own math enrichment program. It includes almost two hundred pages of advice on everything from the logistics of setting up an enrichment program to a fairly large set of suggested math topics and problems. There is even a section on how to apply for funding. Circle in a Box focuses primarily on setting up a math circle as opposed to any other type of enrichment program. Math circles are informal problem solving and discussion groups that were extremely popular for decades in Eastern Europe and which have played a crucial role in the development of several generations of mathematicians. Unlike school math clubs which usually focus on preparing students for specific math competitions, math circles are more flexible and their aim is to introduce a greater range of mathematical ideas (not simply problem solving tricks) and to explore even nontraditional topics in depth.

In our experience, the approach outlined in the book is similar to the one used by The Math Circle, one of the oldest math circles in the United States and by the Gentle Knowledge Math Circle, one of the first free out of school math enrichment programs. The author is the founder of the Stanford Math Circle and is well-known in the world of math outreach. If you’re a teacher, a parent, or simply a math enthusiast who is interested in starting your own program, this book along with Mathematical Circles (Russian Experience) will be an invaluable guide.