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Calling all budding math buffs

Concordia hosts four extracurricular programs for kids
February 10, 2016

“It shows that math is creative and the students have the freedom to be inventive,” says Ildiko Pelczer, a Concordia PhD candidate who leads the Montreal Math Circle. “It shows that math is creative and the students have the freedom to be inventive,” says Ildiko Pelczer, a Concordia PhD candidate who leads the Montreal Math Circle.

“I’m so grateful to Concordia for hosting and nurturing kids with an interest in math,” says Vadim Tsypin, a retired software developer with a math degree and a gifted daughter.

Allison Tsypin is participating in the Montreal Math Circle. She spends Sunday mornings exploring logic problems, Dirichlet's principle and geometry, among other things.

Hosted by Concordia, in a joint project with l'Institut des sciences mathématiques (ISM), the Montreal Math Circle is a self-funded, independent enrichment program for young students — grades three to eight — interested in solving math problems at their school level. After two successful pilot sessions last fall, a third held in January and the fourth will start on February 21 and run until March 13.

“Math Circle breaks out of the traditional teacher-student model, with more informal collaboration and brainstorming,” Tsypin says.

How it works

Facilitated by Alina Stancu, associate professor in Concordia’s Department of Mathematics and Statistics and ISM director, and run by PhD candidate Ildiko Pelczer, Math Circle divides students into three groups according to age and grade. On average, there are 10 kids per age group — half are girls, in the younger sections.

They work individually and collectively on the same problems during the 90-minute, Sunday morning sessions led by Pelczer.

“There’s a need for this kind of thing in Montreal,” says Pelczer, who started doing four-hour mathematical Olympiads in Romania in grade seven. “It shows that math is creative and the students have the freedom to be inventive. And we work on the kind of contest questions that you don’t usually see in school.”

Four-prong outreach

Montreal Math Circle is just one of four math outreach initiatives by Concordia. Another is the Canadian Math Kangaroo Contest, a 20-year-old worldwide math competition that debuted in Canada in 2001. Anna Sierpinska, a Concordia professor who specializes in math education, initiated hosting the contest at Concordia in 2012. Since then, she has remained involved, and the contest’s hosting is organized by Pelczer and department administrator Jane Venettacci.

The registration deadline for the next Kangaroo contest is March 7, for the March 20 event. Over 200 students are expected.

“Engaging the Montreal community in mathematics and statistics is important to us, whether hosting or participating in mathematical competitions for elementary to high-school children, or sponsoring mathematical competitions and student-related activities,” says Nadia Hardy, associate professor of mathematics and chair of the department.

“We are dedicated to continuing our involvement, and finding new ways of increasing our outreach.”

Tournament of Towns

Concordia’s third and newest outreach initiative is the international mathematics competition called Tournament of Towns. It’s a problem-solving contest for students up to the age of 18 that began in Russia in the late 1970s.

“More than 120 cities participate, from more than 25 countries,” says Stancu. “The main goal of this tournament is to provide an opportunity for a large number of students to participate in a competition with worldwide standards. Some problems can be very challenging, yet they require creative use of simple tools rather than advanced mathematical knowledge.”

The next tournament is scheduled for February 28. It will be held on the Sir George Williams Campus. To register, email each student’s name and school grade to by February 23.

Formula of Unity

The fourth outreach initiative is the International Mathematical Olympiad Formula of Unity/The Third Millennium for students from grades six to 12. Organized by the Saint Petersburg State University and the Euler Foundation, it was first held in the 2013-14 academic year. During the 2014-15 edition, it gathered more than 6,000 students from 15 countries.

In Montreal, the tournament is facilitated by Concordia’s Department of Mathematics and Statistics and l'Institut des sciences mathématiques (ISM). 

It takes place in two rounds. The second round — which invites students who received the best results in the first round — will be held on February 21. 

Exponential growth?

“Right now, we are creating a vibrant math community, which is very important to all, and we hope to add to our activities a one or two-week summer camp,” says Stancu. “The challenge will be getting the right logistics support with things like payroll, legal issues, general administration. The enthusiasm from the kids is already there.”

To register your child for the next Montreal Math Circle session, which runs from February 21 until March 13, email, indicating your name, and the name and school grade of your child.

The next Canadian Math Kangaroo Contest takes place on March 20. Register your child by March 7.

The next Tournament of Towns contest is February 28. It will be held in Room MB-1.437, John Molson Building (MB), Sir George Williams Campus. The four-hour contest starts at 11:30 a.m. To register, email each student’s name and school grade to by February 23.


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