What do you get when you mix elementary school children and their teachers and families with University of Washington math faculty and students? A lot of mathematical fun, and in specific, a Math Fair.
Math Fairs first turned up around here in spring of 2004. Inspired by an article in the PIMS newsletter, Ginger Warfield took students from her Math 170 course (Mathematics for Elementary School Teachers) to Leschi Elementary School. After three successive weeks of preparation sessions, the experience culminated in an evening where the gym and lunchroom were filled with tables of puzzles and games manned (mostly!) by kids, with support of the Math 170 students. Kids learned each other's games and, best of all, taught the games to their parents and challenged them with the puzzles. It was an exciting evening.
Last year saw three more Math Fairs along the same lines, at Leschi and Thurgood Marshall Elementary Schools and the African American Academy, all in the Central Area. It also saw a Math Fair on a slightly different model at Wedgwood Elementary School. That one was run by Tatiana Toro, with the assistance of four math majors. Wedgwood is well supplied with games and mathematical construction supplies from the Math 'n' Stuff store, so their Math Fair was shaped around those. Almost all of the preparation time was spent with the fourth graders, who then were in charge of a daytime Math Fair for their schoolmates as well as an evening Math Fair for their parents.
This year we are carrying the plan forward one more notch. The Warfield-style Math Fairs were all assisted by support from the GK-12 grant, and the Toro-style Math Fair was assisted by support from the VIGRE grant. Now we are coming up with an amalgamated style, and are being further assisted by the Mathematics Department. Aided by Math 'n' Stuff, the department has come up with funding to enable us to provide three Central Area schools with a lot of the same games and puzzles that were at the heart of the Wedgwood Math Fair. VIGRE will continue to support undergraduates, and in addition will make it possible to involve a graduate student in the organizational side of the project. Our hope is to finish the year not only having produced four more of these exciting math events, but with a template that will make it possible to turn them into an ongoing offering to the community around us. And that is an exciting thought indeed!