Dr. Julie Cwikla, Director of Creativity & Innovation in STEM at The University of Southern Mississippi served as the invited plenary speaker for the National Association of Math Circles (NAMC) meeting at New York University (NYU) on Oct. 29th. Cwikla is a graduate of NYU’s Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences.
“It was an honor to speak in the lecture hall at Courant where I sat as a student 20 years ago, albeit a bit surreal,” Cwikla said.
Her presentation was titled, “Cognition, Informal Learning, and Evaluation” covering a range of issues but made specific to Math Circles and the need for more research on this emerging and popular way to learn and explore mathematics.
The Math Circles concept was born in Russia and Bulgaria to prepare students for mathematics competitions and math Olympiads. Immigrants brought the practice to the United States which has seen enrichment activities resembling math circles for at least 30 years. The format provides an informal way for participants to talk about problem solving, akin to a club.
In the U.S. the popularity of math circles has surged, growing from 20 to over 400 since 2009 and only increasing. There are circles that serve preK-12 students, families, pre-service and in-service teachers, providing an informal learning community to investigate mathematics and problem solving.
However, little research has provided typology for the teaching and learning that occurs in these spaces, and why the NAMC invited Cwikla to begin the conversation around capturing this rapid growth and interest.
“Math circles are a fun way for professors or teachers to share their love of the subject with their community,” said Cwikla. “There are faculty members who run circles targeted at local high school students or even for other math teachers looking to connect with others in love with the science of patterns. The movement and growth are something to watch and I am hoping to be part of the national group to begin documenting and studying these communities of math learning.”