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Journal of Math Circles

Volume 2, Issue 2 (2022) Special Issue: Math Circles in Times of Physical Distancing

Articles for current special issue

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The UCI Math Circle: Building an online community of young math researchers
Aessandra Pantano, John Treuer, and Yasmeen S. Baki

Transitioning the UCI Math Circle (UCIMC) to an online format has forced us to pivot our pedagogical goals from teaching specific mathematical concepts to building an online mathematical community of young scholars. Each academic quarter, we recruit math Ph.D. students, undergraduate math majors, and faculty to serve as UCIMC mentors and run small breakout rooms during each meeting. Mentors are asked to volunteer for an entire quarter, so that they have time to build bonds with participants. The curriculum, created by the Julia Robinson Math Festival, and the accompanying digital applications, allows students of all ages to engage in online mathematical explorations. Prior to each UCIMC meeting, we run a “mentor training” session where we train the mentors on how to use an inquiry-based approach to guide their students on the week’s online mathematical game or puzzle. Students are encouraged to come up with their own observations and hypotheses, as young mathematical researchers, towards understanding a mathematical investigation. With 23 sessions offered throughout the school year, and an average attendance of 50 students and 10 mentors, UCIMC is making an impact on students’ math skills, while also bringing solace and stability to youths in the pandemic, by offering a dependable once-a-week scheduled online visit with peers and college mentors. In this paper, we detail the benefits of this approach towards fostering community between and among the students and mentors, and the benefits gained by the mentors towards developing their own teaching skills. Using comparison data collected from the past several years, we describe how our novel approach has been a resounding success. The geographical reach of UCIMC has expanded, our attendance has increased, and we have been able to better retain female UCIMC students.

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A Summer Program Goes Online: How BEAM Served Students from Marginalized Backgrounds During COVID
Ramya Ramaswamy and Javier Ronquillo Rivera

Most summers, BEAM runs free summer programs for mathematically talented middle school students from low income, historically marginalized communities. Our programs are designed to deepen students' problem solving and mathematical reasoning skills, to foster their love of math, and to build a community centered around peers all interested in mathematics.

This summer, in response to the pandemic, we made the decision to shift our summer programming online and operate virtually for the first time. We crafted a program that we hoped would sustain many of our original programming goals.

This paper outlines the decisions made, the variables that affected implementation, and the learnings gained as a result of running our programs for rising 8th graders virtually. Utilizing student feedback as recorded by staff members during and at the end of the summer to note overall trends, this paper highlights topics such as virtual learning structures, student engagement, technology, and academic and non-academic community building.

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Revisiting Prejudiced Polygons: Adapting a Familiar Activity During a Time of Unknowns
Anne M. Ho, Jaime J. McCauley, and Tara T. Craig

This article describes the design process behind various iterations of Prejudiced Polygons, a Math Circles activity about segregation. In particular, we frame our discussion around two guiding principles from User Experience (UX) Design in thinking about the interconnected components of a Math Circles session, which includes all the people, the physical or virtual setting, the technology, and the world context. Additionally, we describe how we think about developing a “low floor" and “high ceiling" for math content, social issues content, as well as technology and access.

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Incorporating Social Justice and Equity as Themes in Math Circles Online
Matthew Jones, Sharon Lanaghan, and Carolyn Yarnall

The CSUDH Math Teachers' Circle chose a focus on equity and social justice in 2020. The national focus on social justice caused us to reflect on what we can do to affect change regarding issues of equity and social justice in our society. In addition, the global pandemic caused us to shift our circle online, which presented both obstacles and opportunities. In this paper, we expand upon how we addressed various challenges faced in facilitating an online Math Teachers’ Circle, focusing on our experience facilitating sessions focused on equity and social justice and participants' reactions to this experience.

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Editorial Introduction to the Special Issue: Math Circles in Times of Physical Distancing
Emilie Hancock and Daniel Zaharopol

Editorial Introduction to the Journal of Math Circles Special Issue.