Math Circles Help Develop Students’ Problem Solving Skills

At MetaMetrics, we get excited when we see enthusiastic students and educators in our community! Just down the street from our offices is exactly what you can find on Saturday mornings: students, parents, and educators working together to solve challenging math problems as part of the Chapel Hill Math Circle headquartered at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

What is a math circle? A math circle is a group of students of any grade level coming together to share their passion for math through exploring challenging math problems or special topics. Math circles benefit students by providing the chance for them to solve unfamiliar problems in unique ways. In traditional math classrooms, students often learn a new skill and then immediately apply that skill to a set of practice problems. This process does not give students the opportunity to determine which mathematical concept or solution strategy should be applied to a given problem. In math circles, students see problems out of context from classroom instruction, which helps them develop the ability to solve problem, make arguments, critique others’ reasoning, and persevere through difficult tasks.

In the Chapel Hill Math Circle’s beginning group, students in first- through third-grade solve problems such as this one:

A male parrot and a female parrot are talking. The one with a yellow tail says, “I’m a boy.” The one with a blue tail says, “I’m a girl.” If at least one of them is lying, who is who? Explain your answer.

This is an example of the type of problems the advanced group of high school students would solve:

A polyhedron is made up of pentagons and hexagons. How many pentagons must there be? Prove that no other number of pentagons is possible.

These problems are designed to solicit deep thinking and require students to try multiple solution strategies, collaborate, propose and test conjectures, and communicate ideas using valid mathematical arguments. At the end of the school year, the math circle concludes with a Julia Robinson Math Festival, a full day of problem solving, games, and prizes, all related to math!

For more information about math circles, including how to find a math circle near you or how to start your own math circle, visit the National Association of Math Circles at https://www.mathcircles.org/. For more information specifically about the Chapel Hill Math Circle and the corresponding Triangle Math Teachers’ Circle that provides professional development for local teachers, visit https://chapelhillmathcircle.org/. For more information on the Julia Robinson Math Festival, visit http://jrmf.org/.

math-circle

Photo Courtesy of the Chapel Hill Math Circle

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