Math Circles of St. John’s will create opportunities to learn about complex mathematical concepts through accessible, collaborative games and activities.
“In addition to giving more students access to experience with math we’re also trying to show people that math is a super social, creative endeavour,” says Sarah Smellie, a founder of Math Circles of St. John’s.
The new-to-St. John’s program is inspired by Math Circles of Chicago, an organization that offers sessions where students learn about mathematical ideas that don’t typically get addressed in the school curriculum. They aim to create collaborative environments where students learn by working together.
“Starting with a card game that everyone can play, you begin exploring ideas about number theory, cryptography and ideas about infinity” Smellie says the activities help people understand these concepts simply by encouraging them to ask questions.
It’s fitting that the St. John’s incarnation of Math Circles will be brought to us by Unpossible NL, the organization that facilitates the RPM Challenge and the Stand Up Challenge; all three initiatives focus on inclusivity and creative exploration.
Math Circles of St. John’s will offer sessions for adults – teachers, curious parents, and anyone with an interest in exploring some neat math – every Thursday from January 21st to February 11th.
Sessions for students in grades five to eight will start later in February and run through the winter and early Spring. There will be two circles which group students by grade (5-6, 7-8) and one circle specifically for girls in grades 5 and 6.
Smellie believes that the underrepresentation of women in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) means that girls need more encouragement than boys to envision themselves in those fields. Smellie explained that multiple studies show girls are quick to give up on math if they struggle to solve a problem.
“You need to give girls an avenue explore things and to discover that they can identify as students who are good at math,” says Smellie.
By creating a space where girls do math together with the help of women instructors, Math Circles of St. John’s will be chipping away at the cyclical problem of underrepresentation of women in math.
It’s refreshing to see an initiative that aims to get girls interested in STEM focusing on collaboration as opposed to competitive success. Making girls believe they need to be the best in a given field ultimately cements the false idea that only truly exceptional women are capable of contributing to STEM.
The Math Circles model will show girls in St. John’s that working with and supporting other girls is the answer to overcoming the very real sexism that keeps women out of STEM.
Everyone who participates in Math Circles of St. John’s will benefit from practicing learning through working together. This model for learning fosters creativity and wonder about the nature of the world, in all its infinity.
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