What is a math circle?
Math Circles are places where students and teachers get to engage with mathematically deep content presented in unique ways that promote hands-on discovery. Low-threshold, high-ceiling problems can be approached by students with minimal background but still lead to concepts rooted in advanced mathematics. The are two types of Math Circles: one for teachers of mathematics (MTCs) and one for students (MSCs). There are over 200 Math Circle programs nationwide with approximately 100 active Math Student Circles.
The mission of the Math Circle Network is to support students and teachers as mathematicians, to connect mathematics professors with K-12 education, and to build a K-20 community of mathematics professionals.
Our vision is for every teacher in the United States to have access to a Math Teachers’ Circle. We envision the development of a strong system of regional networks that will facilitate collaboration and shared resources among nearby groups.
Math Teachers’ Circles grew out of the math circle movement in the San Francisco Bay Area in the early 2000s. The idea came from Mary Fay-Zenk, a middle school teacher and veteran math team coach who regularly attended meetings of the San Jose Math Circle with her students. The San Jose Math Circle does not allow parents and teachers to participate in the discussions and problem solving (so as not to spoil the fun for students) and Fay-Zenk grew tired of sitting quietly at the back of the room: “Teachers are people too!” she said. “We need our own circle.”
Fay-Zenk teamed up with other local teachers and mathematicians, including Tom Davis (Silicon Graphics), Wade Ellis (West Valley College), Tatiana Shubin (San Jose State University), Sam Vandervelde (Proof School), and Joshua Zucker (Julia Robinson Math Festivals), and the group developed the idea over the course of a year before finding a home for Math Teachers’ Circles at the American Institute of Mathematics (AIM). In 2006, the flagship Math Teachers’ Circle started at AIM, and continues to meet monthly at AIM and at Stanford University.
Within the first year of the program, teachers were reporting greater confidence in their mathematical skills and changes in their teaching practice. It seemed that the Math Teachers’ Circle was more than just a place for teachers to do fun mathematics — it was emerging as an effective model of professional development, with the potential to be scalable and sustainable over many years.
From 2007 to 2014, AIM organized workshops on “How to Run a Math Teachers’ Circle.” These workshops, sponsored by the National Security Agency, the National Science Foundation, and the Mathematical Association of America, trained teams of mathematicians and teachers from around the U.S. on how to start and sustain their own local MTC.
In February 2016, the Math Teachers’ Circle Network was accepted as a partner of 100Kin10, a national organization coordinating efforts to bring 100,000 excellent STEM teachers into schools in ten years. We have committed to reach 6,000 teachers and their 600,000 students by growing our national network to 300 Math Teachers’ Circles by 2020.