Chat With a Mathematician

Are you a K-12 teacher who would like your students to meet a mathematician? Or would you like to do a fun math game with your students? Perhaps you would like to collaborate with a mathematician to create some math club activities after school?

The AWM wants to work with you to spread the word that math is fun and to make K-12 students aware of the possibility of being a mathematician. Most of our activities are geared towards students in middle and high school but we can talk with you about activities for younger students.

The AWM will facilitate visits (primarily virtual, but in-person when possible) by professional mathematicians, math graduate students, and undergraduate math majors, to K-12 schools and classrooms. Visits might be centered around a mathematical activity while others may be more of a chat with the goal of expanding the horizons of K-12 students to include the possibility of becoming a mathematician. Many K-12 students may not know that you can earn a living doing fun math problems!

Our visitors can either facilitate a math activity for your class, or they can talk with students about their college studies, internships, career goals, or ‘A Day in the Life of a Mathematician’.

Teachers: request a Chat with a Mathematician!

Volunteers: Ready to get involved? Do online and/or in-person visits. Email us and visit some classrooms!

Chat with a Mathematician is in cooperation with the American Institute of Mathematics’ and their Mathematics Community Partners program.

During a classroom visit, a mathematician or math student can share one of the following engaging and well-tested activities with your students. These activities can work for in-class activities or after school math clubs. We may also be able to work with you to develop something that more specifically meets your needs.

Here are modules we have already developed:

Biological Diversity: Biological diversity is important for survival. What does diversity mean?  How can we measure the level of diversity? This activity uses probability.

Gerrymandering: What is gerrymandering? How can a party that is favored by a minority of the populace win a majority of seats? In this activity students explore the important issue of gerrymandering while simultaneously deepening their understanding of geometric concepts such as the relationship between perimeters and areas.

Fair Voting Systems: What makes a voting system fair? Is there a fair voting system? In this activity, students practice their debating skills and explore how different, apparently fair voting systems, can sometimes lead to results that are clearly unfair.

Prejudiced Polygons: There are many games that explore the global effects of local rules and preferences. In this activity, students explore what happens when shapes in a polygon neighborhood are only comfortable when they live with others like them. Is segregation inevitable or avoidable?

Hackenbush: This is a fun game that can lead to deep mathematics. Students engage in logical thinking, explore the idea of equivalence, and create integer invariants for games.  This module explores ideas from combinatorics.

 Exponential Growth: Put a drop of water in a bucket.  Then put 2 drops in the bucket.  Then put 4 drops in the bucket…  How long does it take to fill the bucket?  Students explore exponential growth in this hands-on activity.

Winning the Lottery: How is the lottery connected with geometry? In this activity students play the lottery and use projective geometry to see how to minimize risk and guarantee a win.

 Spinners! Probability and Transitivity: Students explore probability and the relative property of transitivity using a game with three spinners. The spinners are based on a popular game for some students.

 Binary Planet: In this activity, students discover binary numbers as they prepare for a trip to the fictitious “Binary Planet”. Students find out how to convert between binary and decimal number representations, as well as how to add and multiply binary numbers. We also present a fun “number guessing magic trick” that students learn to use on their own. This activity is suitable for students in grades 5 through 7.

 Conversation topics:

A Day in the Life of a Mathematician: What does it mean to be a mathematician (in colleges, industry or government positions)? What does the day in the life of a mathematician or math student look like? Which professional opportunities are available to you as a mathematician? What are college and graduate study like in the mathematical sciences?

We are happy to visit your classroom to talk about our lives as mathematics students and professionals.

The Teacher Partnership Program was launched in August 2006 and teachers and mathematicians with common interests were matched.  A listserv was established for those matched participants to share their ideas.  We had several very successful partnerships in which either the partners became friends or collaborated. One spectacular partnership included a mathematician who went to the teacher’s schools and coached students on a mathematics competition and prepared them for science fairs; the teacher was a guest lecturer in the mathematician’s teacher preparation class and also participated in a research project. (See July-August 2008 AWM Newsletter: Partnering to Make a Difference, Padmanabhan Seshaiyer, AWM Newsletter, Volume  38, Number 4, July-August 2008.) That the partnership should be a two-way benefit to the participants is our highest hope, and this particular one achieved that.

The AWM Teacher Partnership was intended to link teachers of mathematics in schools, museums, technical institutes, two-year colleges, and universities with other teachers working in an environment different from their own and with mathematicians working in business, government, and industry. Participant activities included:
  • electronic communications;
  • teaching projects;
  • classroom visits when feasible;
  • outside-of-classroom activities in mathematics

Examples of such collaborations were:

  • a university instructor could request a teacher from a school to visit her class for prospective teachers;
  • a high school teacher could ask to work with a mathematician working in industry;
  • a children’s museum activity programmer could work with a mathematician;
  • a teacher in a school could cooperate with a mathematician for after-school activities.

In addition to electronic communications, partners visited each other’s classrooms, collaborated in teaching projects, and cooperated in writing grant proposals.

Alas, it has been the hardest thing for us to match participants so that it is geographically feasible for them to exchange visits.  We simply do not have that large a pool to work with.  As several who responded to our questions in our surveys of 2008 and 2010 told us, our participants are very busy people and found it easy under pressure to give up active participation in the program.  We concluded that we need to seek new ways to promote communication and partnerships among our two communities:  teachers and mathematicians.

In March 2011, the organizers of the AWM Teacher Partnership Program revised the way that the program would operate by creating an online forum for  teachers and mathematicians to exchange ideas related to issues important to mathematicians and teachers alike.

DisclaimerAWM provides the Mentor Network and Chat With a Mathematician Program solely for educational purposes. While these programs are hosted by AWM, the views posted do not necessarily represent the opinion of the Association. AWM accepts no responsibility for the opinions and information posted on this site by others or exchanged through these programs. Participants in the Mentor Network or Chat With a Mathematician Program acknowledge that opinions or statements exchanged by mentors and partners are not a substitute for their own independent research. Neither AWM nor organizers of these programs assume any responsibility or liability in connection with actions taken as a result of any information exchanged in this program. The AWM Mentor Network and Chat With a Mathematician Program are in no way liable to participants for any damages arising out of participation in the program. AWM and its officers, employees, and agents are released by this disclaimer from all claims, judgments, demands, liabilities, and actions that participants may have arising out of, or in any way relating to, their participation in the Mentor Network or Chat With a Mathematician Program.