Math Jam summer camp takes inclusive learning online

Colorado State University’s Department of Mathematics is hosting a free virtual summer camp in July for middle- and early high- school students.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Math Jam summer camp — formerly known as Math Circles — will be held virtually from July 20-24. The camp, designed for students who are entering 7th, 8th and 9th grade, will be completely free. This will be the camp’s 11th summer running.

Math Jam “is really about showing the joy and beauty of math to as many people as possible,” said Justin O’Connor, a Mathematics Department graduate student and a co-director of the camp. “We do a lot to make sure that we are being inclusive and cognizant of people’s different mathematical backgrounds. We want to make sure math is available to a wide audience and for a really long time it hasn’t been. We want to show (the students) that there’s a math community that would love to have them.”

The camp will be about 3 hours per day. Sessions will begin every morning as a large, synchronous group on Zoom, and then will utilize Zoom break-out rooms to separate students into groups of six, each with one volunteer to facilitate “in-person” activities.

The second half of the day will consist of another hour and a half of asynchronous, at-home work in the afternoon. There will be assistants on Google Classroom available all day if students have questions during their time away from Zoom.

To register to participate in Math Jam 2020, visit math-colostate.nbsstore.net.

Department of Mathematics graduate students and staff have been working to translate their usual in-person activities into experiences that can be done virtually and without too much supervision.

The idea behind including both synchronous and asynchronous events daily was to make the camp as accessible as possible. The virtual camp was designed so that there is flexibility in the students’ schedules, and so they won’t be limited by materials. All the problems can be done with just a pencil and paper.

The summer camp focuses on making math fun and sharing the creativity and curiosity that makes up its foundation. Volunteers teach “non-curricular math” that doesn’t require high levels of algebra. There is no minimum math requirement to participate.

“We really just want everyone to show up and try some fun math,” said O’Connor. “We do weird, wacky stuff like topology, step theory, and combinatorics. It’s weird math you normally might not get to see until you’re in college. No one will have seen it before, so it puts all the kids on level footing.”

In addition to math programming, students will participate in fun, community building activities like a virtual escape room and an award ceremony at the end of the week.

“We’re really trying to find ways to build a sense of community, especially while that has been somewhat lost during this time,” said Shannon Golden, a graduate student and co-director for the camp. “There’s a lot of summer programs for students who are considered gifted and talented, and there are a lot of camps for students in need of remedial help. The way that kids are put into these groups isn’t really about if they’re gifted and talented. It’s about: Do they have the opportunities and resources provided to them to be labeled as gifted and talented?”

According to organizers, Math Jam is meant to break down barriers, not enforce them, and the graduate students behind it can’t wait for this years’ virtual version.

“Our goals for camp this year are the same as every year: To spread our love of mathematics to the masses,” said Pat Rosse, the third co-director for the camp. “We strive to expose the youth to fun mathematics they wouldn’t normally see in a traditional curriculum. Fortunately, in this scenario, we have a greater opportunity to reach out, as anyone with an internet connection can join.”