Math Circles FAQs

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What is a Math Circle? 

A: Math circles are math enrichment programs for school students. The "Math Circle" term has its origins in Russia and Eastern Europe. Math Circles are weekly get-togethers where math-interested students from schools work on fun and challenging math problems guided by math professionals. Currently there are several very successful math circles in the U.S. which are run in a wide variety of styles.

There are many different styles of math circles. Here is a description of our vision for the 4th and 5th grade math circle.  It is a place for children who love math to learn about some of the deeper concepts of math. It is different from most classrooms: the teacher does much less lecturing, a few minutes or maybe none, and the kids are much more responsible for the path to the solution. 

 A question, perhaps ill formed, is posed that should lead to a major insight and many minor insights. (An ill formed question lets the kids learn that real problems don’t come in the kind of neat packages that classroom problems usually come in.) Then the teacher stands back as much as possible and lets the kids discover the answer. Or, as Bob Kaplan, www.themathcircle.org, says, the teacher poses a question and lets “congenial conversation take over”.  So, along the way, the kids will learn how to hold this conversation.  They can ask questions and make statements without raising their hand but they might need to learn not to interrupt.

The goal is to have the children take charge of the discovery of the answer. Along the way, they should get getter at clarifying what the question or questions are, experience frustration and learn that work will get you past it, have fun, and discover something new about math.  Depending on the question, this can take from half an hour to ten 90 minute sessions.   

Q: What are the age/grade level recommendations?

A: We have two Math Circle programs: Elementary, for students in grades 5 and 6, and advanced 4th graders, and Intermediate, for students in grades 6 through 9. Right now there is not a circle for students younger than grade four.

Q: What is the format of the Elementary Math Circle?

A: There will be ten sessions for the current term. Each session, covering a different topic, will last for 90 minutes including a 10 minute stretch break in the middle. 

Q: What is the format of the Intermediate Math Circle?

A: Each session, covering a different topic, will last for two hours. Students will spend part of the session working on challenging math problems and puzzles. They will also spend part of the time listening to a short lecture/presentation on a math topic not usually found in the school curriculum. How exactly the 2-hour time is split between a lecture and problem solving will depend on the math topic for that day as well as the teaching style of the presenter. During the problem-solving time, working either individually or in small groups, participants themselves will be encouraged to come up with ideas on how to solve the problems, with the instructor acting as a guide.

Q: What are the goals of the Intermediate Math Circle?

A: One of the main goals is to introduce participants to intriguing mathematical theory and topics that are accessible to this age group but do not fit into the school curriculum. Another goal is to connect the circle participants with highly competent college and university math faculty and other math professionals who have a passion for doing mathematics.

Q: Why am I required to sign up for the series and not for a few of them?

A: There are a couple of reasons for this. One is that it takes time and a consistent group for the ability to develop the congenial conversation skills. Another is that there may be sessions that build from a previous session.

Q: Will I be expected to complete all the problems given to us at each session? Will there be homework?

A: NO! There is no homework and you will not be expected to complete or even attempt all the problems. At each session, we will try to provide many problems of varying levels of difficulty so as to interest and suit all participants. You will work on the problems that interest you and at your own pace, and thus you will get as far as is just right for you! We believe the time and effort you spend thinking about a math problem matters more than how many problems you have solved.

Q: How do I know if this Math Circle is the right opportunity for me?

A: You will not know the answer to that question until you have attended several sessions! Math Circle is designed for students who have a deep interest in mathematics and are eager to explore advanced math ideas and topics not generally seen in the school curriculum.

Q: I am enjoying the Math Circle sessions, but I do not quite understand everything at each session. Should I keep coming?

A: You are strongly encouraged to come to each session if you are indeed enjoying the learning experience! It takes lots and lots of practice, exposure and experience to become a skilled problem solver. Hence, do not expect to understand everything at each session since topics in a Math Circle are often unfamiliar and challenging to the participants.

Q: Is there a fee for the program and how do I register?

A: Yes, there is a fee for the series of sessions: $x for Elementary and $y for Intermediate. To register online, click HERE.

Q: Can I use the Math Circle for extra credit?

A: Math circle environment is at its best when students are there because of their own choice and not for any classroom grade–related reasons and hence we will not provide any certificates or signatures to earn extra credit.


For more information: Call: 503.797.4585 Email: info@omsi.edu

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