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.

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.

Art of Problem Solving Classes

aops_logoWe prefer to review high quality online courses that are free, but for the Art of Problem Solving (AOPS) classes we need to make an exception. The Internet is flooded with free courses taught by first-rate instructors, but with scale comes an often overlooked problem. A popular free online course that has an enrollment in the thousands cannot provide the kind of student-teacher interaction that is vital for learning. Art of Problem Solving math classes are relatively inexpensive, but because of limited enrollment, students can communicate with their instructors in real-time. Unlike massive open online courses, Art of Problem Solving classes are built on fairly basic technology that does not include audio or video, but this does not take away from the learning experience because students receive individual attention and are required to do in-class work that is immediately available for their instructors to review. The other defining aspect of these classes is the quality of the mathematical content. Unlike various other online resources, AOPS focuses on sometimes difficult yet engaging problems (after all, problem solving is in their name) instead of simple textbook exercises. For advanced or motivated students in grades 5-12 who do not have access to local high quality math instruction and for homeschoolers, these classes are worth looking into.