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Figure this: numbers are like toys in Math Circle

On the screen in front of them, students considered the day’s math challenge: Which of the following numbers are rollover numbers? 8,612; 4,322; 9,867; and 13,859

Rollover numbers are sums tallied from a four-digit number, like 1,234, with another made by transferring the first digit of the initial number to the end of a new number, 2341. The rollover number made by adding 1234 and 2342 is 3575.

The fun began as students in the Wyoming High School Math Circle used different strategies to figure out the answer. Students computed, erased, tweaked and plugged numbers into different formulas. Excitement grew as they collectively came closer to solving the puzzle, until finally – with the white board covered in numbers and variables – the “aha” moment came.

The word “play” comes up a lot in the new Wyoming High School Math Circle, as students with whiteboards and touch-screen technology have fun with numbers and their limitless possibilities. “It’s a place where you can play with math instead of just solving math or learning about math. It’s applying it to puzzles and games which is the side of math I really like,” said senior Jonathan Driggs, an AP statistics student.

Making Math Add UpA series on the difficulties students have learning math, and what methods some schools and teachers are using with success.

Senior Karen Ruiz examines the problem

“It’s math for the sake of math – just for fun,” said senior Thomas Oliver, who is in AP statistics and AP calculus BC (second-level AP calculus). “In class you are taught math. Here you experience math.”

Numerous Possibilities

Advanced math teacher Eric Retan began offering Math Circle this fall for an hour after school twice-monthly. Six or seven math-minded students regularly attend, delving into number theory, functions, statistics and more. “It’s for anything math-related. “It’s very wide open.  It’s open-ended exploration of interesting math.”

Retan said the extracurricular option offers students math beyond what he has time for in class. “It’s for all sorts of things that there isn’t room for in the regular curriculum. It offers us a chance to just play without the constraints of having to get through certain (lessons in a set amount of time).

Senior Jonathan Driggs enjoys using math in puzzles and games

Oftentimes, a warm-up problem takes the whole hour. Not knowing where the numbers will end is part of the fun, students said. “Some of the problems take awhile,” said senior Antonio Plascencia, who is in AP statistics and AP calculus.  “When you know where you are going with it and you are going to finally get the answer, it gets you excited.”

Senior Alondra Sot, who is in pre-calculus, likes that even Retan doesn’t know answers to the challenges

“In Math Circle you are able to explore ideas more,” she said. “I feel like there is a sense of security because you’re not afraid to share answers. Sometimes the teacher doesn’t even know the answer. That’s the point in it being a challenge.”

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers and On-the-Town Magazine. She has been covering the many exciting facets of K-12 public education for School News Network since 2013. Read Erin's full bio or email Erin.

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