Fairy Tale Math Circle #7

No photos from this week’s circle. Yep, not a single one. The official photographer, aka the Rocket Dad, is out of town. And I was so excited about the math problems (a mix of insight problems, algebra and knot theory), that I completely forgot to pack the camera.

Now, I’ve been trying to figure out how to make all the participants comfortable. Which means giving them enough time to figure things out on their own, but also creating an environment that helps them figure things out. While most of the kids seem to work well even with lots of noise and movement, a couple of kids do get very distracted and uncomfortable. To make things a bit more complicated, our youngest participant is 6 and the oldest is 11.

Fortunately, I was able to get some terrific ideas from the members of the FB group “1001 Math Circles”:

  • At the beginning of a circle I told the kids that the first minute after I present a new problem is “thinking time“. No talking, no shouting out answers. Asking clarifying questions is ok though.
  • I also introduced an idea of a “talking stick” – if you want to say something, you need to have this object in your hands. If you don’t have it, raise your hand and once another person’s finished, they will pass it to you. Pretty much everyone except M ignored this idea. Will try again and will bring a soft plush toy that can be tossed (since that was how everyone wanted to pass the object around).
  • The amazing Maria Droujkova of NaturalMath.com gave me another idea that worked  absolutely beautifully. Some kids love shouting out answers. And if their answers are wrong, they just keep shouting out different answers. That’s distracting to everyone. Maria suggested asking the kids to write their answers down on slips of paper and bring them to me. I went all the way to the other end of the picnic shelter, so there was some running involved for those who needed to release some energy. This worked out so great and the kids loved the idea.
  • Another idea that I tried this time is to start the circle with a team building activity. In this one they had guess their teammates’ favorite animals. They couldn’t talk or use gestures. But they did have 20 popsicle sticks and a couple of pebbles for the entire team to help them.

Whether it was one of these techniques or a combination of several (or all) of them, but the circle went a lot smoother. Sure, there was a lot of running back and forth, but almost no shouting. I also noticed that the two youngest participants, N and V, and M (who has a very hard time in noisy settings) were a lot more successful in solving some pretty tough problems.

Perhaps the biggest surprise came from another participant, D. Usually he is one of the “noise-makers” and “movers and shakers”. I fully expected him to do lots and lots of running back and forth as he delivered his answers to me. He did start with lots of running, but soon settled down and worked on thinking through the problems and testing solutions before bringing them over.

So next Monday I will be using all these techniques again. And this time I will try not to forget my camera.


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