What is a Math Circle?
It’s about shared discovery. A math circle is a chance to play with a rewarding problem, to test hypotheses and create new methods. There are no lectures: everyone takes part as colleagues. Mistakes are embraced as a way to move toward the truth. There are no tests, no homework, no grades, no preparation for school or state exams. This is math as mathematicians practice it.
How does it work, exactly?
The sessions take place on the Zoom video conferencing platform. You will receive an email prior to the first meeting with instructions about how to join the sessions. The class leader will also email you confirming the session times and providing a Zoom address (you will need to download the free Zoom app if you don’t already have it).
How many participants are in a circle?
Circles are small, usually with fewer than eight participants of roughly the same age. The sessions are like a conversation; the class leader’s role is to ask questions that lead in fruitful directions and gently nudge the journey back from potential dead ends.
What will my child need for the session?
Paper, markers, curiosity, enthusiasm.
How should my child prepare for a math circle?
They should not. That would only spoil the surprise of discovery, and the pleasures of adventure. This a chance to enjoy good guesses and wild guesses, since both can lead to insight and sharpen an explorer’s senses. We tack our way to the truth!
Who communicates with me?
Michelle Falcinelli is your first point of contact: she will welcome you and direct you to the right person if you have technical or financial questions. When the math circle begins, your class leader will be regularly in touch. You can always get a response by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Why do you have age ranges for your circles?
You will have noticed that each of our circles comes with a recommended age range. This doesn’t mean that you can’t enroll if your child’s age is outside the recommended age range for the circle, but we think you should know why we provide this age range guidance.
It is NOT about mathematical ability: our Math Circles go on the principle that everyone has the same ability to learn math through shared discovery. It IS partly about mathematical experience – that is, the specific concepts that tend to be familiar at particular ages – but mostly it is about social comfort: a Math Circle is a constant conversation among the students, with only a little skillful prompting from the leader. Some children feel perfectly comfortable conversing with a group several years older than them, proposing their own ideas and judging the ideas of others. Some find this easier among children their own age.
So it is less relevant that your child has been described as “doing math at a 14-year-old level” than whether your child will be happy doing math among 14-year-olds. If you are confident that this will be no problem, please contact us at email@example.com and we can discuss it. In general, we stick with the age-range guidance for students joining their first circle; after that, growing mutual familiarity usually helps to relax rules.
May I sit in on the sessions?
This is not a good idea, for two reasons: first, it’s hard for parents to resist prompting their kids, which prevents the child from learning the value of “wrong” answers. Second, all the participants can see each other; some find it disturbing if there’s an adult listening in. In the case of very young or shy children, it sometimes is necessary for a parent to be present for the first session or two. You can let us know if that’s the case.
I have two kids; can they sign up as one?
No. In a math circle, it is important that each child participates freely as an individual. Two children in the same house can certainly be part of the same math circle, but should ideally be joining separately, from different rooms.
Can my child have a free trial session?
A math circle gets up to speed very quickly – within a few minutes. From that time on, the participants are committed to the problem they are working on, and to each other. It wouldn’t be fair to treat that first session as a “try it and see” experience. We do offer occasional single-session “taster” circles for $25 apiece, and we also invite children to participate in our Institute sessions, where new class leaders are training: these are free of charge.
How does payment work?
When you enroll your child, you will be directed to a PayPal page to make your payment. When that is done, the class leader will be informed of your child’s enrollment; your child’s place in the circle will be reserved. If you cannot make payments via PayPal, or if you have lost your job as a result of the COVID-19 emergency and therefore want to apply for one of the scholarships we are offering, then contact us here.
Do you give refunds?
No. We believe that we are very clear about what we are offering, and we are confident, based on more than 25 years’ experience, that a math circle is a very satisfying experience. You know your child best, so you can decide whether this is something that fits with your child’s interests.
What about payment by others, e.g. from charter schools?
This can be arranged. If you contact us here, we can verify payment arrangements and set up enrollment outside the website-based process.
How can I give feedback?
The class leader may contact you after each session, describing what has been covered and how it has gone. You will be encouraged to reply with your child’s and your reaction to the session. We encourage you to reach out to the class leader at any time by email with questions and/or concerns.
What if my child misses a session?
This is not something to be taken lightly, but sometimes it’s unavoidable. If you contact the class leader, it may be possible to provide your child with a time-limited link to the recording of the missed session.