Friday, November 28, 2008

Albany Area Math Circle has a new website

Our new website is here. We'll still use this blog for occasional posts, but much of the FAQ-type information in this blog will eventually migrate over there, in a better organized form.

The new website has a complete master calendar of meetings and special events through the year. There's also a special calendar just for competitions and deadlines for signing up for those competitions.

We're using a google-forms interface that's built into google-spreadsheets to make it easier for our wonderful volunteer parents to deal with managing the lists of members who sign up for competitions. I was very pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to set up the forms interface. It has a lot of potential to simplify and streamline the process.

We'll be adding more features in the future. If you are an AAMC member who wants to sign up for the Harvard-MIT Math Tournament, please visit the new site, read the info about HMMT, discuss with your parents, and use the form to sign up ASAP.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Thanksgiving thoughts

In the spirit of the season, I'd like to say thanks to so many who make Albany Area Math Circle possible.

Thanks to all the wonderful students and alumni of the Albany Area Math Circle, who have shared their eureka moments, who have inspired me with their passion and perserverence for pursuing problem solving challenges and sharing your mathematical insights with others! You have renewed my mathematical spirit and you make me feel mathematically young at heart working with you each week.

Thanks to Professor Krishnamoorthy, who has shared my belief and vision for Albany Area Math Circle since its small beginnings in 2001 and who has tirelessly contributed his talents and his energies for the past 8 years to helping that dream become a reality, to grow, and to thrive. I am thrilled and delighted that you have been honored with the MAA Sliffe Award.

Thanks particularly to the parents of the founding members of Albany Area Math Circle, who encouraged and supported our vision from those early days, especially Jenifer Besse, JC Glendinning, and Mitch Levinn. (Especially Mitch, for his three years of countless pizza-bearing trips across vast stretches of the Siberian tundras at RPI!)

Thanks to all past and current Albany Area Math Circle parents, siblings, friends, teachers, and other community members who have nurtured and encouraged our members' love of mathematics!

Thanks especially to the countless Math Circle parents who have contributed in so many ways by driving carpools, helping with contest registration and organizational recordkeeping, proctoring and scoring other teams at travel contests, who have provided advice and support and encouragement over the years.

Thanks in particuar to some very special Math Circle parent volunteers who have followed in the footsteps of the pioneering parents:

Thanks to Mrs. Ardito, who tirelessly searches out and posts problems to work on at weekly meetings, as well as organizing the administration of the physics olympiad contests.

Thanks to both Mr and Mrs. Ardito and to Mr. and Dr. Bieber, who have managed registration details for many travel contests, driven carpools, and pitched in countless other ways as well, including chaperoning.

Thanks to Mrs. Schaffer, who managed AAMC recordkeeping and finances as registrar for two years. (And thanks to AAMC captain Beth Schaffer for all her help with that endeavor.)

Thanks to Mr. Babbitt, who wears countless "hats," has helped in countless ways at virtually every meeting for the past two years, managing so many organizational details and enabling Math Circle to grow and thrive and expand to include more outreach to younger students. I have nominated Mr. Babbitt for special recognition for his work, and I hope to have an announcement later this year.

Thanks to Professor Rita Biswas for her willingness to help manage the registration for our Harvard-MIT Math Tournament entry this year.

Thanks to the Art of Problem Solving Foundation, for setting up an earmarked account to which math circle supporters can make tax-deductible donations! Thanks again to Mr. Babbitt for managing the paperwork and processing of those donations. And thanks to all the parents and other friends of math circle who have donated to that fund.

More generally, thanks to the entire Art of Problem Solving enterprise for their excellent contributions to developing problem-solving skills around the country and the entire world. Many of Albany Area Math Circle's veterans have benefited from AoPS free discussion forums as well as their books, classes, and now their new free Alcumus project.

Thanks to all the volunteer problem writers and committee members who contribute such interesting problems to contests like AMC, AIME, ARML, HMMT, NYSML, PUMaC, and USAMO, and who contribute in countless other ways to making those programs possible.

Thanks to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, for hosting all our meetings for the first five years of Albany Area Math Circle, and for continuing to host occasional meeting when Niskayuna Schools are on vacation break. Thanks also to Siena College for hosting a few meetings as well during the 2006-2007 year. And to Siena Professor Alicia Todaro for arranging that for us.

Thanks to Niskayuna Community Education for providing an excellent large meeting space for our regular Friday meetings since fall 2006.

And thanks to Ms. Victoria Holley, director of Niskayuna Community Education, for her help in making arrangements for our meetings.

Thanks to Calvary Church in Schenectady for hosting so many AMC8 and AMC12 contests over the years. Thanks as well as Brunswick Church, the Clifton Park Library, Colonie Christian Life Center, the Emma Willard School, the First Unitarian Society of Schenectady, GE Global Research, the Kenney Community Center, the Niskayuna branch of the Schenectady Public Library, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Schenectady County Community College, Siena College, Skidmore College, Union College, the University at Albany, and Williams College, which have all hosted math circle students for one or more math competitions and/or other math special events over the years.

Thanks especially to those veteran Math Circle members and alumni who are "paying it forward" by mentoring and coaching younger students in turn, in so many different ways, by volunteering as MATHCOUNTS coaches, as middle school Math Circle mentors, or simply as welcoming and encouraging veterans helping out new rookies on Friday nights.

When I see one math circle student helping a new member or a younger student in a middle school program, you fill my heart to bursting with pride!

Happy Thanksgiving to ALL!

Mary O'Keeffe
Albany Area Math Circle advisor

P.S. Thanks to my family--my husband, my daughters, and my parents for all their love, inspiration, patience, and support for everything I do, including Albany Area Math Circle.

Paying it forward--coaching MATHCOUNTS

Many of our alumni and current veteran members have been "paying it forward" by coaching local MATHCOUNTS teams. Mentoring younger students can be rewarding and fun. Moreover, explaining math to others deepens your own understanding and mastery of the concepts you are explaining.

Pictured at left is Felix Sun, an Albany Area Math Circle veteran and a former National MATHCOUNTS finalist, during a break from practicing with the 2007 New York State team. Felix is now working with fellow Math Circle veteran Eric Wang to coach MATHCOUNTS students in Shenandahoah school district.

Dave Bieber, another Math Circle veteran and former National MATHCOUNTS finalist, is coaching at Van Antwerp Middle School. Last year, Van Antwerp students benefited from coaching by Math Circle veteran Qianyi ("Landy") Zhang assisted by Jason Xu. The year before, Van Antwerp students got coaching from Math Circle veterans Eugenia Gisin and Anjana Tayi.

Raju Krishnamoorthy, a founding member of Albany Area Math Circle as well as a National MATHCOUNTS finalist, helped his former coach, Mrs. Nancy Smith. coach teams at Doyle Middle School in Troy.

Math Circle member Anagha Tolpadi is coaching MATHCOUNTS again at Iroquois Middle School this year. Other Math Circle members and alumni who've coached at Iroquois include Markus Salasoo and Alison Miller.

The heegMATHCOUNTS group has had the benefit of many Albany Area Math Circle student coaches over the years. Current student coaches include Matthew Babbitt, Schuyler Smith, Leah and Luke Trouwborst, Jay and Lindsay White, and Zagreb Mukerjee. Past AAMC student coaches have included Drew Besse, James Dick, Stephen Krewson, Catherine Miller, and Beth Schaffer. (Beth also coached Farnsworth Middle School's team in earlier years.)

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Paying it forward--middle school math circles

Our veteran high school math circle members have benefited from the mentorship, support, advice, and coaching of math circle alumni when they were younger. Now, in turn, many of our current members are "paying it forward" in the finest tradition by working with younger students in a variety of ways. A number of our math circle members are serving as student coaches of local MATHCOUNTS teams. Dave Bieber and Markus Salasoo designed and ran a summer math camp for local middle school students. And other members are working on a new math circle initiative: running "middle school math circles."

Math circle veterans Zagreb Mukerjee and Matthew Babbitt have been working with Mr. Babbitt to start up a "middle school math circle" which meets weekly in Clifton Park. Math circle veterans Andrew Ardito, Liz Simon, and Jason Xu are planning to start up a second middle school math circle which will begin meeting in another location later this year.

Math Circle students run summer math camp for middle school students

This past summer, Albany Area Math Circle veterans Dave Bieber and Markus Salasoo, upperclassmen at Niskayuna High School, designed and ran their own math camp for middle school students in Niskayuna, under the auspices of Niskayuna Community Education.

I asked Dave to write up a description of their experiences to share with other students who might want to do a similar project in the future:

This summer Markus Salasoo and I ran a math camp for middle school students. A dozen really enthusiastic kids registered, and we all had a great time. Each day we explored a different area of mathematics through games, puzzles, and contest problems. Topics included probability, combinatorics, algebra, and geometry.

Each day began with Continuo, a game of teamwork and pattern recognition. This was followed by a lesson on the day's topic, and a number of activities to emphasize the uses of the mathematics taught. Then, following a brief snack break, we did contest math problems in the forms of relays, countdown rounds, and Buzz competitions. Students worked together and individually to solve problems of varying difficulty relating to the math topic of the day. We explored the possibilities of the famous hand shaking problem, both mathematically and as an ice breaker. We solved Monte Hall experimentally, and learned more about probability through the Greedy Pig game and by playing with M&Ms. To accompany other topics, we played modified versions of 24 and Buzz. These games kept everyone engaged and made for a great experience. The students were friendly and seemed to enjoy the camp.

Certainly I hope that the students learned as much as I did from this camp. Preparing lessons and accompanying problems was a great experience, as was teaching the class and working one-on-one with these students. Over the years mentors and coaches have given me opportunities to have fun learning math with others who enjoy it as much as myself. I hope I was able to pass on the gift of the love of learning math.

Thanks to Dave's and Markus' parents, who took turns serving as adult chaperones in order to make the camp possible.

It sounds like a great experience in problem-solving and leadership. Dave is now coaching the Van Antwerp Middle School MATHCOUNTS team.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Excellent new resource for problem solving

The Art of Problem Solving website has an excellent new resource available called Alcumus. (If you're curious about the name Alcumus, it comes from Greek mythology. Alcumus was the father of Mentor.)

It is currently available for FREE on the Art of Problem Solving website.

Alcumus could also be an excellent resource for newer math circle students who have not had the benefit of much prior exposure to topics like combinatorics. If you are thinking about going to the Harvard-MIT Math Tournament this year, the Alcumus tutorial could be a great way to get help on some of the trickier topics in combinatorics.

Alcumus has a large supply of excellent problems with detailed solution explanations, and the problem selection system is "adaptive," which means that Alcumus will select appropriate problems for a student based on the ones they've gotten correct and incorrect so far.

After you've successfully solved 60 problems, you can get access to the best problem solving teaching videos I've ever seen!

I highly recommend this resource. If you are a veteran who is coaching younger students, you can learn a lot about good ways to present problem solving skills by watching the videos.

If you are a rookie and your background in problem solving has gaps in certain areas, Alcumus can help you identify those areas and work on them.

If you have very bright and curious younger siblings or friends in middle school who want a self-paced adaptive system to develop their problem-solving skills, this is also a great resource for them.

If you are a coach for younger students, there is even a way that you can easily monitor the progress of your students as they work through the problems. It will help you identify areas that are especially tricky for you students, so you can work on those at practices.

Right now, the site is primarily focusing on combinatorics. More topics will be added later.

As I said, it is currently available for free. Students who want to use will need to establish a free user account on the Art of Problem Solving (AoPS) website.

More details are here: