Suggestions for Running Math Circles for Underserved Youth

Check out our booklet on running Math Circles for underserved youth! view here. click for a printable version.

Many mathematicians who are already familiar with Math Circles seek to bring their experience and enthusiasm for mathematics and deep, critical thinking to students who would not generally have access to these opportunities. Here are some observations about and suggestions for running Math Circle groups for underserved students.

All Math Circles seek to…

  • Engage students in fun mathematical activities;
  • Educate students in problem-solving skills;
  • Expose students to novel mathematics that they may not otherwise see unless they decide to major in math in college;
  • Enrich students through collaborative experiences;
  • Encourage students to see themselves as “doers of math.”

It is important to facilitate attendance and continued participation by making the program physically, economically and culturally accessible.

— Emily McCullough, San Francisco Math Circle

Meeting Structure

  • Divide children into small groups (4-5)
  • Assign one volunteer per group
  • Run meetings on a college campus (increases cool factor and draws more volunteers)
  • Consider arranging bus transportation for students to lift the burden from families
  • Consider meeting at schools or community centers

Curriculum Design

  • Ensure the math is accessible (use pictures, story settings, lots of scaffolding)
  • Use clear instructions (especially for students who use English as their second language)
  • Give opportunities to explore new mathematical ideas
  • Give opportunities to practice basic math skills and mental math
  • Incorporate hands-on activities and manipulatives
  • Involve families by sending activities home or hosting family days

Challenges

  • Student transportation
  • Neighborhoods with very limited resources
  • Time for families and students to devote to extracurricular activities

Models That Have Worked

  • Find a teacher who deeply cares, has a high status among student community and is willing to commit time and energy
  • Write a letter for parents in English and any other appropriate languages that teachers can pass out in class and students can take home
  • Students’ Circles: recruit teachers to recruit & help arrange transportation for students
  • Free programs
  • Tuition-based programs with sliding scale
  • Off-site programs (at universities for example)
  • On-site programs can be
    • exclusive to the school, or
    • open to the public
  • Most importantly, willingness to adapt to the needs of the communities you seek to serve

Further Resources

The National Association of Math Circles is grateful to The Clowes Fund for its support of this project. Clowes Fund logo