Virtual Math Festival Engages Students

On Saturday morning, May 9,  65 students and 20 adult volunteers chose to start their day off with math!

The Santa Cruz County Office of Education’s (SCCOE) first-ever Virtual Math Festival offered students in grades 5-8 the opportunity to participate in advanced and thought-provoking mathematics in an online, social and cooperative atmosphere. Students logged onto an online conversation hall, and then chose from different online tables that offered problems, games and/or puzzles with mathematical themes.

As students visited the different tables (18 in all), they worked with other students on the mathematics problem as long as they wished, while an adult facilitator provided support and encouragement. When “seated” at a table, students could activate their camera, their microphone, a white board, and share ideas with each other.

“I liked that the students had the opportunity to move around and try different activities or stay at one activity and go deeper” commented one facilitator. On a survey administered after the Festival, 95% of the students and adults said they would participate again.

Interestingly, over half of the students continued working on the problems with friends or family, even after the Festival ended. “That’s what we’re after,” commented SCCOE Math Coordinator, Kevin Drinkard, who co-designed the event, along with Spencer Bowen of the American Institute of Math (AIM). “Math is all around us … to entertain us, to engage us, to challenge us, and help us solve problems. We are working to support a positive mindset about math.”

In designing the VIrtual Math Festival, Mr. Drinkard and Mr. Bowen tried to emulate the design of the popular Julia Robinson Math Festival (JRMF), but in an online format, since face-to-face interaction is temporarily restricted due to the COVID-19 shelter-in-place orders. There were a few hiccups along the way, mostly with using the technology – but the students seemed to adjust quickly. 

The Festival would not have been possible without the volunteer efforts of local teachers, interns from UCSC’s Cal Teach program, thought partnership from UCSC’s Monterey Bay Area Math Project and non-profits JRMF.org, mathcircles.org, and XAcademy.org. And of course, the students and their families!