Origami, card tricks, slime…MATH?

What do origami, card tricks, and slime all have in common? For the Math Circle students at Altona Middle School, the answer is mathematics, of course!

For the last five years, Linda Goertz, 8th grade math teacher at Altona, has attended the Rocky Mountain Math Teachers’ Circle sponsored by the University of Colorado- Denver. Math Teachers’ Circle is a group of middle school educators and mathematicians that meet to solve and discuss unique and interesting math problems.

Goertz recognized the value of these experiences to increase problem-solving strategies and strengthen math knowledge. Last year, she had the unique idea to bring Math Circle to the student level. She wanted to give students the opportunity to understand mathematics in the real world.

Math Circle at Altona is a small, non-competitive, group of Goertz’s 8th grade math students that meets after school twice a month to solve fun and interesting problems – and eat a little pizza, too. They are engaged in real problem solving such as using bubbles to learn about Platonic solids, making slime to explore proportions and creating origami to understand geometry concepts. 

“[Many of my students] don’t have the confidence in math. … A lot of my kids have told themselves ‘I am not good at math’. They get into these math problems and find that they are fun! They are challenging, but yet they can solve them. They don’t realize that they are doing math,” said Goertz.

Goertz created separate Circle groups for girls and boys to provide a non-intimidating and open environment for discussion and creativity. This recreational environment encourages students to explore math in a way that fosters collaboration and perseverance.

“Math Circle … focuses on thinking mathematically. It honors perseverance in problem solving over mechanics and procedures. It can expose students to non-traditional content. … Math is not just what is in our textbooks and standards. … [Math] is real. It lives in a real world and is about real problems,” said Greg George, K-12 Mathematics Coordinator, St. Vrain Valley School District.

Beyond the math content, Goertz sees Math Circle as an opportunity to build valuable skills for adulthood.

“Math is everywhere and in everything we do. … I am teaching [them] how to reason through a problem, how to problem solve, and how to think logically. These are skills for life,” said Goertz.