For Parents

Get Your Child Excited About Math!

STEAM powered Math Club

I found out first hand how important art instruction is for teaching math from some of our math competitions. When there were problems involving cubes, such as counting their surface area or volume, the students’ ability to make a sketch in the high pressured environment of the competition came into play. It didn’t have  to be a nice looking sketch; but it needed to be coherent enough to be a helpful tool for the student. I liked the sketch above because of the energy it projects and the “Picasso-like” use of perspective. I liked the spirit behind it; the student was obviously determined to conquer the problem at hand. I think that a better understanding of how to depict a cube on a piece of paper would have helped him organize his thoughts. The amount of time students spend with screens these days is not helping them develop the kind of hand-eye coordination required for a quick sketch. They tend to have little or no practice with making approximate, loose drawings. Obviously, one wouldn’t want  to start working on these skills in the midst of a math competition. They need to be developed on a regular basis, so that they can be quickly recalled in time-sensitive situations such a tests. Some students enjoy drawing, but insist on making everything as close to “perfect” as possible. Such students need help in letting go of their perfectionism and putting down their visual thoughts on paper as quickly as possible. The following drawing was made by a  student who was initially reluctant to make quick sketches and is making good progress with this skill: It is a nice... read more

In the footsteps of Archimedes: celebrating Pi day

Nowadays, thanks to modern day computers, we have instant access to the approximation of π (the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter) to any degree of accuracy. But back in antiquity, getting a good approximation of π was elusive and difficult. Over 2000 ago, the Greek mathematician and scientist Archimedes derived an accurate approximation of π using polygons to approximate a circle. Let’s follow in his footsteps with Geometiles as our tool. We’ll start by approximating the circle with a square, then a regular hexagon, and finally a  regular dodecagon (that’s a 12-sided polygon; dodeca means 12 in Greek). You can see that the more sides our regular polygon has, the rounder it is. In fact, the dodecagon is so round that it can almost roll like a wheel, as you can see in this Instagram video: For each of our regular polygons, let’s compute the ratio of the circumference to the diameter of its inscribed circle, and see how it compares to π≈3.14. What’s an inscribed circle, you might ask? That’s the largest round cookie you can make out of your polygon. Archimedes used both an inscribed circle and a circumscribed circle (the smallest circle that completely encloses the polygon) in his work on approximating π, but we’ll just stick to the former in this activity. You can do this activity with your students at two levels. For students who have not yet learned about special right triangles Measure the sides of the polygons and the diameter of the cookie cutter, then compute the ratio of the first quantity to the second. Let’s use the fact that the square is about 2.5 inches on the side. This is... read more

Math Club Materials: academic programs and competitions

Let’s say you do decide to hold competitions in your math club. What are your options? Much of this depends on the grade level of your students. I will describe our experience with the various competition programs in which we have engaged. We started our students in math competitions when they were in 4th grade. For 4th and 5th graders, we’ve had a good experience with Noetic Learning and Math Olympiads for Elementary Schools (MOEMS). Both of these programs are a good place to start if you are new to running a math club, and you don’t know where to begin (this is where I was two years ago). They give problems on a variety of topics that are age and grade appropriate. Also, I found the Noetic test to be a good diagnostic to assess the math levels of our students, and to determine which topics merit more attention. The two programs have very different testing formats, which serves the students well. Some children do better with longer tests, while others like tests with fewer questions. Noetic has two 40 minute tests per school year, each with 20 problems. These longer tests give students sufficient choice of problems that they can usually find some they can do. For those students who have trouble focusing for 40 minutes (remember, we’re dealing with 4th and 5th graders!), MOEMS has a series of 5 tests per school year, each with 5 problems for which the students get 30 minutes. Some of our kids really took well to this shorter test. Both Noetic and MOEMS are free answer tests– as opposed to multiple choice. For students in 6th-8th... read more

Math Club Materials: recreational math

Whether you decide to hold competitions in your math club or not, recreational math materials are an important component of your program. If I had one word to describe the most important quality of these materials, it would be VARIETY. Mathematics is an incredibly broad subject, and often kids’ sense of what it encompasses is extremely limited. As you expose young children to mathematics, it is important for them to experience as wide a variety of topics and materials as possible. We don’t want them walking away from math club thinking math is just about numbers! When I say variety, I mean variety both in the content of what is being taught, and the learning medium. What you see in the above picture are four examples of what worked well for us in terms of recreational activities. Every activity provides a different kinesthetic experience for the student, as well as exposure to a distinct topic. Starting on the left, we have a MATHCOUNTS National Math Club Kit. This is a wonderful free resource for math clubs, providing high quality, varied recreational math activities. Pictured on the box is a challenging fraction puzzle which one solves by writing on a laminated worksheet with a dry erase pen. There are other activities, involving pipe cleaners, dice etc. This program is only available to 6th, 7th, and 8th graders. If your students are in any of these grades, I highly recommend it. Going clockwise, we have the Math 24 game. This is a simple, yet challenging  game in which participants need to make the number 24 out of the 4 numbers using arithmetic operations.... read more

Math Club staff: the parent volunteers

The success of our math club was largely due to the outstanding teamwork of our diverse group of parent volunteers. The picture above shows four members of our team, each born in a different country, with a different professional background; therefore, each making a unique contribution to the Math Club. We were also fortunate to have coaches of different genders—this helped create a productive and positive environment for our class with roughly the same number of boys and girls. The four people in the above picture were part of a larger team. All members participated in the discussion and planning, and a few of us did the actual teaching. As you might expect, the people doing the teaching need to have some sort of public speaking experience—whether it be teaching experience or presentations given at one’s workplace. Even if the person has not taught children, (s)he can soon adapt to the new audience. Fortunately, you only need one or two people who can do the teaching. As for the rest of the parents participating in planning the Math Club, I found that as long as every member participating in the discussion fulfills ONE of the following 3 criteria, our (s)he can be a valuable contributor to our meetings. The list that follows is highly subjective; I am simply sharing my experience in the hope that other parents find it useful. 3 criteria for parents to be involved in running a math club– need only 1 of the 3 to qualify! A past or present career that requires mathematical thinking. This is extremely broad and includes, among others, anyone with... read more

To compete or not to compete: that is the question

When I first became the coach of our math club, I was not sure if math competitions were a good idea. What if the students get the impression that learning math is just about competing? What if our sessions become just a bunch of competition drills? These and similar questions were in the back of my mind as I began coaching.

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