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Join the Math Party! Math Circle Explores and Enriches Students, Families, and Faculty
Dianne Willoughby


Over 300 students, families, and faculty enjoyed an afternoon of math on Saturday, February 9 on Nueva’s San Mateo campus. In every corner, attendees celebrated mathematics, challenging themselves, working together, and making new friends.

Math Circle is a worldwide outreach program bringing together preK-12 students to solve problems, or investigate interesting topics. Since Nueva's first event in 2010, Math Circle has been very popular and well-attended. Designed to delight all ages, Math Circle events are a time for math exploration and enrichment, and the opportunity for students to interact with visiting mathematicians and subject experts.

Math Circle Chairs, Justin Lin and Sonia Schein, started as Math Circle enthusiasts before they became organizers. “It’s been gratifying to achieve our goals like attracting teenagers as well as an equal number of girls as boys,” said Sonia. “We even had a few parents attend without their kids, and some families attending from Vacaville and Castro Valley after learning of the event through word-of-mouth.”

Justin and Sonia work to ensure that there is something for everyone. “One of my favorite things about organizing Nueva Math Circle is greeting families who have been coming to our events for years, including so many from the greater Bay Area,” said Justin. “It challenges us to keep our content fresh and continue making the events even better."

Machine Learning is a Sell-Out

Currently a hot topic, Machine Learning drew a crowd to the Writing and Resource Center. Following the success of workshops held at last October’s Math Circle, Jen Selby, Nueva Computer Science Teacher, led Machine Learning 2A which centered around Decision Trees, appealing to Middle and Upper School students and parents. In addition, to make sure attendees understood foundational principles, they could first take Machine Learning 1A to launch their understanding.
Elsewhere around the campus, it was a hands-on day. “Math Circle is about people choosing to do math together,” said Marissa Maimone, Lower School Associate Teacher and Nueva Alum, “It truly embodies the Nueva way of learning by doing. Everyone was drawn into this math party because it was so much fun.”

It truly embodies the Nueva way of learning by doing. Everyone was drawn into this math party because it was so much fun."

Highlights of this Math Circle included Strategy Games, Family Poker (Texas Hold’em for the whole family and all skill levels), the game of Go, Open Chess, and our own Math Specialist, Stephanie Englehaupt, presenting Break it Down: Let’s Navigate Big Challenges with Small Moves for preK-grade 2 students. In addition, our friends and special guests from San Francisco Math Circle hosted many free-choice math activities.
Nueva Math Specialist Lora Saarnio, is the faculty advisor for Math Circle, supporting the dedicated parent volunteers who host three Math Circles each year, arranging all aspects of the event including inviting guest speakers, planning activity sessions, and logistics. Lora observed, “While many Math Circles follow the format of a prix fixe menu, that is, students working on a non-routine problem led by a math speaker, Nueva’s Math Circle is unusual. We offer both the classic experience of a mathematician or math expert working with students combined with rooms upon rooms of mathematical puzzles and games.”

Mari Deitcher, mother of two current Nueva students, said, “It’s great to see how Math Circle has evolved over the years, from a small Friday night gathering, to a sold-out weekend event that really showcases what hands-on learning is like at Nueva. You can talk about how learning is different here, but this allows everyone, both members of our community and visitors, to really see it in practice.”

Everyone Learns by Doing

Nueva teachers love Math Circle because it provides opportunities to enhance their own practices and knowledge. Sharing her motivation for Machine Learning 2A, Jen Selby described how important this topic is right now because of its pervasive use. “People are really excited about it, and the more they understand how it really works, the better equipped they are to see how truly amazing it is, and what the potential pitfalls are of its uses. I’m motivated to provide knowledge that enables people to see it as something they can interrogate.”
As an Associate Teacher, Marissa is developing her teaching skills, making sure she’s helping students figure things out for themselves. “I’m really conscious of not telling students what I would do, but rather asking questions that prompt them to find problem-solving strategies for themselves.”
The next Math Circle will be on Saturday, May 4, 2019, beginning at 1:30 pm on Nueva’s Hillsborough Campus. Justin shared, “We will team up with Girls’ Adventures in Math (GAIM) and put on another math extravaganza!”






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