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Frequently Asked Questions

What’s the difference between the Math Circle and Beast Academy/Art of Problem Solving classes?

The big difference is that Math Circles teach math that students probably won’t see in schools, whereas Beast Academy and Art of Problem Solving are meant to reinforce and preview the school math curriculum.

Can you say more?

Absolutely! Our community-based Math Circles:

  • Teach math that is typically outside the school curriculum, like logic or cryptography;

  • Develop problem-solving skills and give kids a taste of the beauty of mathematics;

  • Focus on problems that rely only on reading and math students have studied in school, but that are challenging enough to stump many adults;

  • Build students’ confidence and grit;

  • Are fun and creative, incorporating puzzles and games;

  • Combine the best of the Eastern European and US mathematical traditions;

  • As of 2022-23 school year, meet in-person only, on Saturdays at Harvard in Cambridge, MA with groups for students grades 1-3 and grades 4-7.
     

On the other hand, Beast Academy and Art of Problem Solving classes, including PreAlgebra, Algebra 1 and Algebra 2: 

  • Use a nationally recognized curriculum to help kids become better prepared for more demanding classes in high school and college;

  • Teach the same topics of math kids learn in schools, but at a deeper level, both reviewing and previewing topics; 

  • (In the case of Beast Academy) use a playful textbook in the form of a comic book, which makes learning into a story;

  • Group students into small sections (2-6 kids) based on what their current skills are, their preferred pace of learning, and how outgoing they are;  

  • Meet over Zoom on weekday afternoons, with the majority of students on Tuesdays and Thursdays. During each class time we have multiple groups working at many different levels of the curriculum 

  • Typically for grades 3-8.
     

We also offer programs embedded in Cambridge public schools as after-school math circles or lunchtime math programs. These are adapted from our math circle curriculum and are meant to provide an introduction to our other classes and increase participation of girls, African-American, Latinx and low-income students in math enrichment. We have a summer camp, too.

Is this only for kids who do great at school math?

No. ​In Math Circle, we work on skills that use school math to solve complex problems. We find that both kids who excel at school math and those who struggle enjoy this kind of challenge. Students may struggle in math class for many reasons, including a perception that they aren’t or won’t be good at it. Our out-of-the-box approach can break through that perception.

 

In addition to math circle classes, we have curricular math (Beast Academy/Art of Problem Solving) classes for students at many skill levels.

Do you evaluate students?

We evaluate new students for placement in Beast Academy/Art of Problem Solving Classes. For Math Circles, we place students in flexible groups based on parent questionnaires and students' own feedback.

Why is there no Zoom option for Math Circle?

Many of the activities we do in Math Circle are hands-on and are hard to replicate on Zoom. In addition, our families have had enough Zoom and are eager for the children to get back together in person.

Do the programs cost money? Is there financial aid?

Yes and yes—except for our programs in public schools, which are free to families and are intended to provide access to underrepresented students in STEM. Our paid programs offer need-based financial aid, and our prices are reasonable compared to other local math enrichment. Our organization was founded specifically to serve students from traditionally underrepresented groups in math and low-income students, and in most cases cost will not be a barrier regardless of ability to pay. If you need financial assistance, please let us know on the registration form.

If you can afford to give something to help another child get math enrichment, we would greatly appreciate it. The Cambridge Math Circle is a registered 501(c)(3) charity.

Who teaches the classes?



Most of our teachers are undergraduate or graduate students at Harvard or MIT, studying math or an adjacent field. Nataliya Yufa, one of our co-founders, has degrees in math, physics, and education from MIT, UChicago, and Lesley. She continues to run the organization and teach, as well as design the curriculum. You can read about our teachers here.

Can kindergartners or 1st graders join?

Almost no kindergartners or 1st graders join our math circles. This is because our problems are highly challenging and require a very strong reading level (end of 2nd grade). In addition, our classes are run with kids up to and including 3rd grade in the same room, which many younger students find intimidating. If you have a kindergartener, please wait until 1st grade. If you have a 1st grade who is reading at a typical 1st grade level, please wait till 2nd grade. It is more important that the child has a good experience over many years than they start a little earlier.

My kid has a special situation. Can I contact you?

Of course! Email us at info@cambridgemathcircle.org.

What happens at camp?

 

Curriculum might include: 

  • Fractals

  • Origami, patterns, and illusions

  • Secret codes

  • Number theory

  • Group problem solving

We have field trips and guest speakers. Last year, a robotics instructor came in to talk about how robots are built, and we took a trip to Google in Kendall Square. We get outside every day if the weather is good.

Who teaches the camp?

 

Most of our teachers are Harvard and MIT graduate students in STEM. 100% enjoy sharing their love of math with children. 

Who can be a camper?

 

Rising 3rd through 8th graders (ages 8-13) who like math or puzzles. 

Why Cambridge Math Circle?

 

The Boston area is home to many companies and universities that need people with strong reasoning skills, who are not afraid to tackle challenging problems that involve mathematics. Often, the pipeline to STEM careers breaks down in the K-8 years, and students arrive in college without the grounding or the interest to pursue most math-heavy majors. While some US students have access to math clubs where they build their problem solving skills, finding such a place in Cambridge for school children hasn't been easy. This is why we created the Cambridge Math Circle. 

What do you mean by “fun, beautiful math for all”?

Arithmetic doesn’t have much relation to what mathematicians do. Math is creative, and in many ways shares more with arts like poetry and music than the impression of math from traditional math classes. We want to show students that. Mathematicians ask interesting questions about shapes and logic and codes and games, not just with numbers. And mathematical reasoning skills are useful across science, technology, and engineering. 

Regarding “for all”—although Cambridge is a city with many people who are brilliant at math, there is very limited access to math enrichment (as opposed to math remediation) extracurricular activities that are affordable enough for everyone to participate, or that emphasize cultural competency and gender equality. We work to close that gap.

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