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Archive for October, 2008


Sharon Begley uses Dr. Andreescu’s recent study to make her case against a biological explanation for the fact that boys have historically out performed girls in higher math.

There is no denying that, at the elite levels of math, men vastly outnumber women. Women received 27 percent of the Ph.D.s in math awarded by American universities from 1993 to 2002, edging up to a still-woeful 29 percent last year. They make up only 19 percent of the tenure-track faculty in math departments. No woman has ever won a Fields Medal, the “math Nobel.” The Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth, which looks at kids younger than 13 who score 700 or above on the math part of the SAT, found a 13-to-1 boy-girl imbalance, implying what the researchers called “superior male mathematical ability.”

Now for the “however” part. That 13-to-1 ratio was true in 1983. In 2005 it fell to 2.8 to 1. Nothing in the brain that is “hard-wired” can change that quickly. Cross-cultural data on young people with off-the-scale math ability are even more telling, as researchers will report in next month’s issue of the Notices of the American Mathematical Society.

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Dr Titu Andreescu

Dr Titu Andreescu

October 18, 2008 – Dr. Titu Andreescu – “AMC Test Preparation”

The AMC tests have become a critical measure of math and problem solving capabilities. Elite universities that routinely reject students with 800 SAT scores require and respect AMC test scores. These tests often draw on discreet math topics that students may not encounter in a standard US curriculum. The AMC 8 test is available for students through 8th grade and is excellent practice for the harder AMC 10 and 12.

Dr. Andreescu, the Director of MMC, is the former Director of AMC and coach of the US IMO team.  On October 18th, he will give students a distinct advantage with strategies to prepare for these tests which may determine their college admission.  For more information on these tests please see The Road to the IMO.

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The responses continue to the study by Dr. Andreescu and his colleagues.  Geekdad, a blog of Wired Magazine, has the following article which contains contributions from Mary O’Keefe, mother of IMO team member Alison Miller.  Mary hits themes that Richard Rusczyk stressed in his talk, particularly the importance of play and community.

I know that Alison got an enormous sense of belonging out of her first math Olympiad summer training camp experience, and it literally transformed her life. Melanie Wood was a staff member at Alison’s first camp and I think she deserves an enormous amount of credit for her leadership in transforming the culture there. Alison has tried to “pay that forward” by mentoring younger students and helping to create mathematical communities they could enjoy. For Alison and Melanie, I think coaching and mentoring has been even more fun and rewarding than competing.

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Alicia Prieto Langarica continued her tradition of actively engaging the students as they explored deep mathematical concepts. Ms. Langarica began with a discussion of the regular polyhedron and allowed the students to prove for themselves why there can be no more than 5. She then talked about these 5 Platonic Solids and gave some of the cultural context of these important objects.

From this basis, Ms. Langarica was able to describe the wide variety of non-regular polyhedron. As diverse as these objects are, they all have the common properties described by Euler. Ms. Langarica showed how the relationship between the number of vertices, faces and sides would be constant for all of these figures.

To involve the students more directly, the students built their own polyhedron and demonstrated their own diversity and talent. This break activity prepared them for listening to the more challenging portion of the lecture on Minimal Surfaces. Ms. Langarica described the very practical value of finding minimal surfaces to conserve cost or weight in construction projects. She then showed several beautiful examples of minimal surfaces.

By finding the surface normal of any point on a curved shape, Ms. Langarica showed how a minimal surface could be tested or created. To drive this point home, Ms. Langarica took the math circle outside with their polyhedron creations. By dipping these objects into soap bubbles she was able to beautifully demonstrate how minimal surfaces would form spontaneously as a result of the physical properties of the air and soap film.

Ms. Lanagrica has provided her slides from the lecture and answers to the problems. Members of the Metroplex Math Circle e-mail group can download these files from the group site. To join the e-mail group simply click below.



Click to join MetroplexMathCircle

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RedOrbit has also picked up the coverage of the new study by Dr. Andreescu and his colleagues.

US Culture Neglects Girl Math Whizzes

Posted on: Friday, 10 October 2008, 10:50 CDT

A culture of neglect and, at some age levels, outright social ostracism, is derailing a generation of students, especially girls, deemed the very best in mathematics, according to a new study.

In a report published today (Oct. 10) in the Notices of the American Mathematical Society, a comprehensive analysis of decades of data on students identified as having profound ability in math describes a culturally constricted pipeline that puts American leadership in the mathematical sciences and related fields at risk.

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Following is more global coverage of the recent study by Dr. Andreescu and his peers. Click the logo below for the whole story:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Americans may like to make fun of girls who are good at math, but this attitude is robbing the country of some of its best talent, researchers reported on Friday.

They found that while girls can be just as talented as boys at mathematics, some are driven from the field because they are teased, ostracized or simply neglected.

“The U.S. culture that is discouraging girls is also discouraging boys,” Janet Mertz, a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor who led the study said in a statement.

“The situation is becoming urgent. The data show that a majority of the top young mathematicians in this country were not born here.”

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Melanie Wood, former IMO team member and doctoral student at Princeton.

Melanie Wood, former IMO team member and doctoral student at Princeton.

Dr. Andreescu’s study is getting global attention including this widely read New York Times article. While the article and study describe the problem in great detail, we are fortunate that one of the solutions is the community provided by MMC and other Math Circles.

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This article is so central to the mission of Math Circle that I am reproducing it here in its entirety.  Dr. Titu Andreescu, Director of MMC, was a primary contributor to this study:

U.S. Culture Blamed for Lack of Girl Math Experts

Study Blames Peer Pressure and Lack of Challenging Coursework as Obstacles

Oct. 10, 2008

A new study published in the Notices of the American Mathematical Society says there’s no shortage of American girls with an aptitude for math, but the crux of the study reveals a troubling trend.

The study, Cross-Cultural Analysis of Students with Exceptional Talent in Mathematical Problem Solving, identifies obstacles such as peer pressure and other societal issues that keep girls from pursuing education and careers in mathematics.

Study co-author Titu Andreescu, UT Dallas associate professor and director of AwesomeMath, said the problem is largely domestic.

“Innate math aptitude is probably fairly evenly distributed throughout the world, regardless of race or gender,” Andreescu said. “The huge differences observed in achievement levels are most likely due to socio-cultural attributes specific to each country.”

Janet Mertz, the study’s lead author and a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor, said in a recent release, “We are wasting this valuable resource. There are some truly phenomenal women mathematicians out there.”

The study, based on data from elite math competitions, reveals:

  • No national shortage of girls who are talented mathematicians.
  • Girls do excel at math, despite myths to the contrary.
  • American children feel discouraged from pursuing careers and education in math.
  • Emphasis on mathematics at home and school is much greater internationally than it is in America.
  • Children from Europe and Asia—where math is highly emphasized—are much more likely to be identified as extraordinary at math.
  • The career/education pipeline for nurturing top math talent in the U.S. breaks down by middle school.
  • 80 percent of female and 60 percent of male faculty hired in recent years by the very top U.S. research university mathematics departments were born in other countries.

Elementary school girls tend to do as well or better in math than their boy classmates, and the authors suggest that peer pressure and societal expectations cause girls to begin falling behind or losing interest in math by middle school. Worse, some girls may even hide their aptitude or interest in math to avoid ridicule.

The study says the U.S. is heavily reliant on hiring math experts from outside the country, and that talent pool may soon dry up as math experts stay home to take advantage of opportunities in their own countries. The lack of top-flight mathematicians and scientists could, as the report suggests, put the economy of the U.S. in further jeopardy.


Media Contacts: Brandon V. Webb, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, brandon.webb@utdallas.edu
or the Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, newscenter@utdallas.edu

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October 11, we will begin with an introduction to polyhedrons and their properties. We will see why there is only a certain number of regular polyhedrons and we will talk about non regular polyherons as well. We will build our own polyhedrons, regular and non regular. Then we will introduce the concept of minimal surfaces and discuss its importance in various fields. The last activity is going to be a fun surprise that will illustrate minimal surface on different shapes.

Ms. Langarica is a mathematics Phd student at The University of Texas at Arlington. She has a BS in Applied Mathematics from the Univestity of Texas at Dallas and was a contestant in the Mexican Mathematics Olympiads for 5 years where she received one national silver medal and two gold medals. Since then, she has been involved continuously in mathematics Olympiads as a trainer and problem writer.

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