As I say on my web page, I really care about education. In addition to thinking about how to fix things nationwide, I’ve decided to do something at my daughter’s elementary school. I’m starting a “math circle” that meets after school once a week through the end of the year.

We had our first meeting on October 5th — it was a blast! I originally planned the meeting to be a parent/volunteer orientation, but decided to have it be a parent/volunteer/kid “kick-off”. To really get things off to a good start, I decided to do a really fun activity I’d done with Audra last summer: programming robots. Not lego robots, not erector-set robots, but instead, the most sophisticated robots known to mankind: people! We talked about what programs were (kind of like recipes, but for doing things besides cooking), and talked about how hard it is to describe, in detail, how to do things, like play soccer or dance, or whatever.

Then we broke into teams of 4-5 kids (3 groups!) and each group decided what they were going to do, and who would be the robot. After about 30 minutes of wonderfully noisy hilarity, we showed each other our programming prowess, and the results were very gratifying. Kid-robots were walking around the room, picking things up, drawing on the whiteboard, and so on. Different groups chose different levels of abstraction for the instructions, but that’s just fine: this math circle thing allows the kids to set the rules. The adult facilitators are there mostly to make sure the kids follow the rules they’ve set for themselves.

Next week we may delve a bit deeper into this topic again (loops, if/then/else, and procedures for sure, maybe (just maybe) recursion, etc. And after that we’ll move towards things that seem more classically like math. I think we have their attention, though!

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