Free club at Vanderbilt aims to make math fun for middle, high school students

Math professors at Vanderbilt University will offer a free after-school club to help middle- and high-school students learn complex mathematical concepts in fun and playful ways.

Larry Rolen, assistant professor of mathematics, and Mark Sapir, Centennial Professor of Mathematics, will co-direct Nashville Math Club, which will meet from 5-7 p.m. on Mondays beginning Jan. 14.

“Learning to think like a mathematician involves noticing patterns and solving puzzles. It is a universal skill” said Rolen. “You don’t just learn to solve the problems you are focused on. You are trained to learn to think and problem-solve. Kids who don’t currently like math might like this.”

Beyond typical math equations, the Nashville Math Club will offer hands-on activities such as learning the geometry of bubbles or seeing the math behind various shapes of origami. In addition, students will try their hands at computer coding.

Sapir said he was inspired to start the club by his childhood in Eastern Europe, where similar math clubs were popular. Sapir recalls benefiting from the more creative and flexible approach to math. He and Rolen said they hope to provide that same creative atmosphere for young students in Nashville and to attract students from groups underrepresented in the STEM fields.

The creative nature of these types of clubs or “math circles” has fostered their popularity across the U.S. in recent years. Mathematicians have seen disadvantages to the way math is typically taught and practiced at school and view these clubs as a way to enhance ingenuity and help students see the beauty of numbers, the organizers said.

Those interested in participating should apply here before January 10. The club will meet on the Vanderbilt campus in Stevenson Center Room 1308.

Story by Erin Facer