Thursday, March 12, 2009

Julia Robinson Mathematics Festival: March 29 and May 2

If you're interested in math, puzzles, and encouraging middle and high school students to learn more about math, I recommend taking some time to help out at the Julia Robinson Mathematics Festival on March 29th in Emeryville. I heard about the festival at a talk last year. I actually helped out as a puzzle mentor for the geeky (adult) audience of this talk, and had a great time talking people through one of the puzzle sets.

The JRMF presents great puzzles--graduated challenges, interesting applications--in a context that encourages kids to work together on solving them. This both encourages the ones who don't get the solution right away and cements the mastery of those who caught on more quickly. Everyone has fun, and many youngsters are exposed to the notion that math is relevant and applies in many everyday situations.

They currently have an event scheduled at Pixar in Emeryville on Sunday March 29, and are planning another for May 2, but don't have a firm location for the latter yet. They're looking for adult volunteers to staff math tables. Here's the announcement I got via email.

General information:
The Julia Robinson Math Festival
The festival, for students in grades 6-12, will consist of morning mathematical activities lunch, an accessible (to middle school and high school students) math talk, and, of course, prizes. Julia Robinson is the Berkeley mathematician who, among other important discoveries, made significant contributions to the solution of Hilbert's Tenth Problem. Here's a bit of biography, and a bit about Hilbert Tenth.

The morning activities will cover a wide variety of mathematical topics, including abstract problem-solving techniques like symmetry and parity as well as content ranging from arithmetic and algebra through combinatorics and topology. Students will have time to visit at least five or six activities during the morning session. For a sample activity, see the Candy Conundrum (and Teacher's Guide). (There are downloadable links at Each activity table will be staffed by an expert, and upon reaching certain milestones in their understanding of the mathematics behind the puzzle or game or activity, students will be rewarded with raffle tickets for the afternoon's prize drawings. Thanks to our sponsors, the desJardins/Blachman fund and Pixar, we have an impressive array of prizes!

For those who want to staff a math table:We need people who are comfortable with hard math problems, and who can patiently work with kids to guide them toward progress. We are looking for guides who will listen to what kids have worked on, ask some (perhaps leading) questions, and then let the kids continue to progress. If you're interested, contact Joshua Zucker (email: first.last at stanfordalumni dot org), and if you're not sure you're interested, contact him anyway and he can give more detailed information about the expectations of the table leaders.

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