Julia Robinson Math Festival

This weekend I hosted a Julia Robinson Math Festival at Trinity University for students from my high school and one of our feeder middle schools. I stumbled across the Julia Robinson organization from a math colleague I follow on Twitter and reached out to him to find out more. He generously shared resources with me and as I began planning, I was happily surprised at how easy the organization was to work with by giving me financial and organizational support along the way.

Two of my past Trinity professors helped me work through the details of hosting the event at Trinity and also helped sort through the math problem sets that we thought would work best. We chose the following problem sets to be set up at tables for students to move through at their own pace: Indecisive Director, Leo the Rabbit, Tilings, Space Chips, and Tower of Hanoi. The math professor I worked with invited a few other university professors and undergraduate math club students to help run the tables (it was awesome to have the chance to facilitate the morning’s events and watch the learning take place instead of myself being a table leader at only one table). I also loved having the opportunity to reconnect with my university professors through this event.

There was so much success that took place…here are some of my favorite moments…

1. As students came in, I could tell from most of their initially shy demeanor’s that they were a little unsure of what to expect from a “math festival.” However, the university professors and undergraduates passion for math quickly transpired to the students. I watched as they adamantly listened to the professors and undergrads give hints, not answers, at how to work the problems. The way the table leaders facilitated their tables enabled kids to have many “ah-ha” moments that were really fun to see.

2. Several problem sets involved unique patterns that middle/high school students are not often exposed to in the general curriculum. One professor commented to me that a lot of students were trying to find the slope between the numbers but he had to stray them away from that and help them to look for a different type of pattern…I told him we focus so much on linear and geometric sequences and that students were not used to thinking there could be another type of pattern. The exposure to problems that were so different and complex required them to think creatively and again enabled them to have some exciting “ah-ha” moments. One student stated towards the end of the event that they felt like a lot of the problems were interconnected…a really interesting comment that proved they were finding patterns within the patterns.

3. The hands on activities of the Tower of Hanoi and the Space Chips were a hit. Kids loved creating physical things and I think they didn’t even realize they were using math especially in the Space Chips problem set. I am excited to use these when we get to 3D area and volume!

4. When the time was winding down at the event and parents were arriving to pick up their students, I made a quick announcement thanking the students for coming and putting in so much hard work into the morning. Not one student got up…I had to remind them several times that their parents were there to take them home, but they all wanted to finish up the problem set they were working on!

5. We had a very diverse group of students in attendance (G/T students, pre-AP and non pre-AP students, middle school, and high school students) but every kid found success at the event by finding patterns, creating something, or solving a puzzle without the direct help of a teacher telling them what to do. One girl who often struggles in my Geometry class told me at the end of the event (without me asking) that she had fun, she’s looking forward to next year, and can’t wait to come back!

6. Finally, I didn’t see a single cell phone out the entire morning…no need to say anything else about the level of engagement! 🙂

Thank you to all the table leaders (high school and middle school teachers, university professors, and undergrad students), the two university professors I coordinated the event with, my Twitter colleague, and those who work for the Julia Robinson organization…it was a truly successful morning of learning!

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