problems almost always do). She started attending the Berkeley Math Circle at age 11, matriculated at UC Berkeley at age 13, and is now a graduate student with several patents to her name. Some math circles, such as the Kaplans’ original math circle in Boston, deliberately avoid preparing students for math competitions. Others do provide preparation for competition, but it is far from being their main emphasis.

In 2006, the American Institute of Mathematics (AIM) began organizing math teachers’ circles, designed specifically for middle-school teachers. After all, why should students have all the fun? By exposing teachers to open-ended learning, and encouraging them to view themselves as mathematicians, the organizers hope to have a trickle-down effect on thousands of students. At present, AIM lists 30 active teachers’ circles in 19 states.

Despite their very promising start, it remains to be seen whether math circles will become a formal part of the American educational system or remain a poorly funded adjunct that depends on the passion and unpaid labor of volunteers. Clearly they have already provided an invaluable service to some of America’s brightest youngsters. Conceivably, if teachers’ circles take root, or if enough teachers come to observe math circles with their students, they could begin transforming American schools in a broader way, so that mathematical competence is expected and mathematical virtuosity is rewarded.


a The committee thanks Dana Mackenzie for drafting the text in this box.

that reviving this sort of program would contribute in exciting ways to the mathematical sciences (or STEM) pipeline.

Recommendation 5-5: The federal government should establish a national program to provide extended enrichment opportunities for students with unusual talent in the mathematical sciences. The program would fund activities to help those students develop their talents and enhance the likelihood of their pursuing careers in the mathematical sciences.

In making this recommendation, the committee does not intend in any way to detract from the important goal of ensuring that every student has access to excellent teachers and training in the mathematical sciences. The goal of growing the mathematical sciences talent pool broadly is synergistic with the goal of attracting and preparing those with exceptional talent for high-impact careers in the mathematical sciences.

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