One of the great benefits of discovering Math Circles is seeing how thriving math circles around the country are organizing to solve the same set of logistical problems. I was particularly impressed by the Stanford Math Circle which I was fortunate enough to visit this past week.
The first session of their new year was very well attended by 70-80 people. This was particularly impressive considering the traffic and travel time facing parents on a Thursday evening in the Bay area. Like our own circle the attendees ranged substantially in age and included some very talented and engaged 7 year olds.
Organizers and Speakers
The Stanford Math Circle is directed by Dr. Dana Paquin who completed her PhD at Stanford and experienced Eastern European problem solving through a special program in Budapest, Hungary. The speaker for this session was Dr. Ravi Vakil the faculty sponsor for the circle and an extremely accomplished mathematician as well as a teenage problem solver.
Dr. Vakil’s lecture was on “The Mathematics of Doodling” and followed the model of our most successful speakers. He began with a very simple and visual problem that fascinated him at 5 years old. From that intuitive basis he built up a deeper understanding by challenging the students to solve problems. By the end he connected his talk to contemporary research being done by some of the most accomplished mathematicians.
Format and Best Practices
Like our own math circle, Stanford runs for 2 hours with a snack break mid way through. Unlike MMC, Stanford does require its students to sign up and pay a nominal fee to participate on an ongoing basis. I think this has merit in terms of promoting regular attendance and it also allows the Stanford Math Circle to print out name tags for their regular attendees. I also liked the way that they offered hand outs with relevant news and problem sets at the beginning of the session.
I’d like to thank Dr. Paquin again for allowing me to attend her thriving Math Circle! I would encourage others who are travelling on business or pleasure to look for one of the many math circles around the country and ask the director if you can attend.
— David Cordeiro