Mathematics Department hosts Family Mathematics Program

By: Anna Carmichael,  A&S Communications
Tue, 11/29/2016

Families from across the state, as well as New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Delaware, traveled to Cornell earlier this month for a Family Mathematics Program hosted by the outreach program of the Cornell Department of Mathematics and the Johns Hopkins University Center for Talented Youth. This is the fifth time the Department of Mathematics has hosted the program.

The day-long program Nov. 5 consisted of interactive activities geared at introducing students from grades 7-10 and their parents/guardians to mathematical topics they wouldn't necessarily learn in school. The hands-on activities and interactive discussions helped participants learn about geometry, topology, and other specialized topics.  

Aruul Avaralt-Od, a middle schooler who attended the event said, “I thought it would be fun to learn about different topics in mathematics.”

Her father, Avaralt, explained, “I wanted my children to attend this event because I thought it would be interesting for them to see numbers in application.”

Professor Tara Holm gave the keynote lecture, “The Topology of Trousers,” which encouraged participants to look at topology in everyday objects. Each participant was given pieces of perforated paper, and during the lecture Holm had them tape together the paper, and rip along the perforation. When they taped and ripped the paper, they were able to make new shapes.

Holm first had participants make a simple cylinder with the paper, and then they were asked to rip along the perforation, which then formed a Möbius strip, a twisted cylinder.  

After the lecture, three one-hour break-out sessions were offered. As each student cycled through the three sessions, their parent/guardian attended the same sessions, but in a different room. The breakout sessions were taught by graduate students and helped participants think about how mathematics is applicable in their everyday lives.  Sessions focused on mathematics in dancing, how mathematics can help you win, and how mathematical patterns can explain chaos.

According to Mary Ann Huntley, director of mathematics outreach and K-12 education activities, this is a wonderful opportunity for graduate students to practice presenting advanced mathematical ideas to a non-specialist audience.

“I learned how to more effectively communicate results to people outside of my field. Having the opportunity to work with parents was really rewarding for me,” a graduate student noted.

The Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth is a nonprofit center that nurtures young people's intellect and personal growth through programs such as this one.

The program concluded with an optional campus tour so that families could explore Cornell.

Anna Carmichael is a communications assistant for the College of Arts & Sciences.