Nov 12, 2016
This is a book that I have more of a connection with than many of the others I cover on the podcast. I first bought a book by these authors when I was 17, and didn't read it until literally ten years later. It was a fascinating recreational maths book. I then discovered that they were involved in alternative maths education, and that they had even set up an organisation for this called The Math Circle. This book relates their experiences of running Math Circles, their philosophy and approach to maths and maths education, and some pointers as to how to set up a Math Circle of your own.
Two questions may come to mind. Firstly, what is a Math Circle? Robert Kaplan summarises it as "a conversation, among equals, about math". Secondly, has there been any education or psychology research on maths circles and their effectiveness? I have been looking for this for a long time, and have asked a lot of people deeply involved in the scene, but I am yet to find out about any studies done about them. So, short answer, apparently not.
The word on the street is that they tend to be highly beneficial to students, but that they are "risky" in the sense that, as with any conversation, you don't know what it will be like until you have it. There are maths circles that flop, and there are those that shine. More shine than flop, but there is always the risk of flop.
In this episode I discuss the book, and the following few episodes relate to the Math Circle Summer Institute, a weeklong course I attended in the US where Robert and Ellen Kaplan share their wisdom and help teachers to learn how to run maths circles for their own students.
Enjoy the episode.