Math Circles for Elementary School Students – Book Review

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Why are there so few math circles, particularly for younger children? One of the reasons is the belief that very young kids are simply not ready for complex math. Another reason is that finding deep and engaging math activities, adapted for this younger audience, is itself a challenge. Natasha Rozhkovskaya’s new book, Math Circles for Elementary School Students, helps deal with both these difficulties.

The book is based on Natasha’s experience leading a highly popular program for elementary school students at the Berkeley Math Circle. In the true “if you build it, they will come” fashion, the Circle attracted so many youngsters, that it had to be split into several smaller sections. What was originally thought of as a one-semester pilot program is currently in its 3rd year. Its young students return semester after semester to continue learning about such complex modern math ideas as symmetry, fractals, probability theory, logic, knot theory.

Natasha’s book addresses the issue of “too young for this kind of math” early on, in the first few pages. The rest of the book is a delightful collection of activities that deals with the activities challenge – what can young children do during the circle. There are detailed plans and activity descriptions for 28 math circle meetings (15 from the original BMC and 13 from a program Natasha started at the Kansas State University). There’s also something just as valuable as the lesson plans included with the original 15 lessons – Natasha’s reflections and notes on how her students worked through the activities.

In the video, I give some more details about the book and answer a few of Maria’s questions. I highly recommend it, particularly for those math circle leaders who are just starting out or who are starting to work with younger students. You can purchase this book from American Mathematical Society.

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