Friday, March 19, 2010

Spring 2010 has been a challenge for our Circle to meet, but we have met a couple of times and a new member from Laramie has joined, Julia. We also decided to continue meeting on the 2nd and 4th Wednesdays, but not as a credit-earning class. We'll offer credit again for our July face-to-face workshop at Ranch A near Devil's Tower. Watch for a directions to sign up and recruit for this SOON. For now, mark your calendars for Thurs July 15 through Saturday July 17, 2010.

I promised (myself) to post some of what I have gathered from attending two national meetings, so let me start with the most recent: Circle on the Road at ASU in Tempe this past week. Pam joined me on Monday morning to see a little, and perhaps she'll add to this note. It was inspiring to meet so many people who have had the courage to start circles, and see how they have grown in time. One of my favorite new friends also runs teacher circles: Ginny Bohme from Arizona. I asked Ginny to join us for an Elluminate session, and she's planning on it.

There were quite a few who wanted others to know how rural and small their communities, but none had us beat, and everyone agreed that the beginning is hard. Now so many are ready to share resources, and this workshop has probably encouraged many more to share! With the new found support of the national mathematics groups like MSRI and AIM, the web resources should get better real fast. Of particular interest is perhaps the elementary grade materials. It seems that many parents with Eastern European roots have translated Russian texts for older students, but lots of creative folks, especially parents running circles that were created for their own kids,

There are a few especially interesting ideas I want to share now:
1. When we post problems for use in classes, include a description of the Standards met so that other teachers more readily see how to justify using the problem in their classrooms.

2. A measure of "success" derived from problem solving work include risk-taking, readiness for tests such as the ACT, and increases in proficiency within high-needs areas. No one seems to have much data (yet) but the ASU group seems intent on gathering this from us and anyone else who might join them. The circles in Charlotte NC offered that they have some evidence of the risk-taking and another promised some data on the second. I got the impression that he was one who told of problem solving work breaking through the boredom that under-achieving students find in too any of our classes.

3. Models for student math circles in more urban and established places include summer "camps" and math Saturdays. Many of the latter stay in contact with the students directly via email. Elementary age circles are shorter, and often held in a person's home near the schools. Those running these young-age circles believe in having a few visitors, but mostly agreed that having one main person is important for the younger children. The Kaplans run an amazing number of circles in one week, and they describe the importance of a non-competitive "congenial setting". One of the Bay Area parents arranges with teachers from neighboring schools to transport students to her home.

4. Some practical advice is available for parents who might be anxious during the initial weeks, and slides from various parent presenters should become available on the MSRI or TC sites soon.

5. Others urge "recreational math" as the content so that every problem is new and no one needs to catch up. Others have quarterly or yearly themes, but agree that adjacent sessions are best when they stand alone. Those running circles for older children break many of these rules.

6. Lots of people are creative in a humorous way with the problems they pose to children. A favorite was from a Mom who asked "If 1 kid can annoy 1 Mom in 1 hour, how many hours can 10 kids annoy 10 Moms?" Another person introduced us all to the resources from NACLO, the North American Computational Linguistics Olympiad. If you haven't seem their sort of challenging, go look soon! Many agreed that these challenges met everyone's criteria for engaging and entry-level.

7. In some places, Circles partner with other groups such as the Boys & Girls Club and government agencies that have an outreach mission.

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