Welcome to Somerville Mathematics

Welcome to Somerville Mathematics, a blog devoted to exciting mathematical things happening in Somerville MA. I am the founder of The Somerville Mathematics Fund, www.Somervillemathematicsfund.org
The Math Fund was chartered to celebrate and encourage mathematics achievement in Somerville. I hope you will check out my TEDxSomerville talk on the Somerville Math Fund,
I find that there are many other interesting things happening mathematically in Somerville and I hope on this blog to have others share what they are doing. So please contact me at mathfund@gmail.com if you would like to contribute an article.

Monday, October 29, 2012

8th Annual Scrapheap Showdown-- Out on a Limb! Can you Cantilever?

On October 28, 8 teams of 3 high school students each from Somerville gathered in “The Cage” at Cousens Gym at Tufts University to compete in the eighth annual Scrapheap Showdown.  Instead of the usual interesting “junk” in the center of the room when the students walked in, there were many pieces of paper, some foam core, lots of string and tape.  The students were given their challenge: to design and build a cantilever out of paper, tape and string.  They could use foam-core and clamps to build and attach the base to their table    The teams worked intensely, building, testing. 

Time was called after three hours.  Now was the time for the competition.  Each team was judged by how well their cantilever could support weights at the end of the arm with minimal displacement.  There was a hook at the end of the cantilever where a bucket with weights was hung for the trials to determine the relative stiffness and strength.  They each had six trials, keeping the best score using this equation:

Beam stiffness  = W L3   

W = weight, L = length, D = displacement

The students' cantilevers competed against each other.  The team with the highest overall score, was “Ace" (Flor Duarte, Emily Mei, Anthony Melchor-Montiel).  

Second place was the “Freshmen” (Jefferson De La Cruz, Cesar Benavides, Ben Stevens)

Third place, “G.I.R. (Geninuses in Rebellion” (Nicholas Menezes, Christina Joo, Harrison Grams)

“W = R.P.S. (“Omega” = RPS)” (Prajwal Acharya. Ngawang Tsering, Ruthie Grossman) came in Fourth.    

The teams could choose their prize in the order they finished.  The other teams that participated in the event were the LuCKY GeNiUSEs, and the Team Pandora, and the Misfits, and the Bubots.  

The prizes donated were: $100 gift cards (donated by Jay Landers & Jasper Lawson & Saraf Nawar, four Red Sox tickets (Sam Voolich), three $50 RedBones BBQ gift cards, six passes to the Aquarium & Museum of Fine Arts and 4 passes to the Children’s Museum donated (PriceWaterHouse).  This event was for both fundraising and an intellectual challenge--all funds raised go towards a Somerville Mathematics Fund scholarship for an outstanding Somerville mathematics student.  

Fundraiser Theodora Babilye won a Newbury Comics gift card donated by the Voolich family.  All competitors and volunteers went home with Scrapheap Showdown tee-shirts donated by Gerald and Debra Bickoff.  

Designers & refiners of the challenge were: Adam Foster, Monica Fernandes, Richard Graf, Jay Landers, Saraf Nawar, Zbigniew Nitecki, Erica Voolich, Michael Voolich, Susan Weiss.  DSG Communications donated the paper, Kanayo Lala gave engineering advice.  Cathy Cannan and Michael Morgan, teachers at Somerville High School, recruited student teams.  Michael Voolich designed the T-shirts.  Sponsors of the event included Winter Hill Bank, the Bickoff family, Jay & Jasper, RedBones BBQ and our wonderful host, Tufts University.  Various members of the Board worked on all aspects of organizing the event and worked to make it a success. 

The Somerville Mathematics Fund is an affiliate of Dollars for Scholars.  They were chartered in 2000 to celebrate and encourage mathematics achievement in Somerville.  In January, they will be looking for teacher grant applications; and in April, they will be looking for scholarship applications.   For more information or to volunteer or to make a donation, call 617-666-0666, e-mail mathfund@gmail.com, or go to www.somervillemathematicsfund.org.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Meet our 2012 Scholarship Winners

The Somerville Mathematics Fund offers scholarships for outstanding mathematics students who lived in Somerville MA while in high school.  These scholarships are for $1,000/year as long as the students take math courses or ones that use mathematics and mantain a B average.

This year, all of our scholarship winners participated past Scrapheap Showdowns [the source of the pictures] and some also volunteered at Pi Nights and K-2 Math Nights.  All of these students were outstanding students at Somerville High School, challenging themselves with honors and AP math and science classes.

Zoe Blickenderfer wrote in her applications about her 7th and 8th grade math teacher at Unidos, Mr O'Keefe, who inspired her and left her with an affection for math.   Even though now at times math is her most challenging subject -- thanks to taking AP Calculus-- it is the one that amazes her with its concepts and ideas.  Her love of the subject along with that of science is reflected in her school work.  Zoe was a founding member of the Green Club at Somerville High School and is very interested in environmental science and food justice.  She was a member of the Llama Lords of Science Scrapheap Team which came in 2nd this past October.  The first thing she ever saved money for was a telescope.  It is not surprising that she is undecided about her major at U Penn, but her possibilities range from urban studies to astronomy and astrophysics.  Zoe received our Alice T Schafer memorial scholarship.

Nathaniel Dempkowski challenges himself academically beyond his Somerville High School classes by taking a BC Calculus class on Saturdays at MIT.  Nat has participated in multiple math and science competitions.  His science project made it to the State Science Fair two years in a row after working on it with mentors at Momenta Pharmaceuticals and then Biogen Idec.  Nat competes in monthly Science League competitions and was the overall top scorer in the New England Math League at Somerville High School.  He was on the winning Scrapheap Showdown team, two years in a row.  It isn't surprising that he plans on majoring in engineering at Northeastern University.  Amazingly he still finds time to run on the cross-country team.

Along with his academic classes, Nathan Long was busy on various sports teams, the Science League team, and the band while in high school.  He took AP Calculus at MIT on the weekends.  As a junior he became interested in economics and investment theory and discovered a connection and application to the mathematics he had been learning.  He was on the winning Scrapheap Showdown team, two years in a row.  He is planning on majoring in economics at Tufts University.

In addition to Felice Mancini competing in Science League events and various community activities outside school, he participated in the SERAPO Foreign Exchange Program with Gaeta, Italy.  Felice wrote about his experience working at Fire Escape Services listening to discussions about the design and construction of fire escapes which was clearly connected to his lifelong interest in how things work and how they are constructed.  It isn't surprising that he is planning on majoring in mechanical engineering at Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

Along with her school work, Michele Mei played in the band, started the Garden club, worked on the Green Club, participated in Science League competitions, and captained the tennis team. Over the summer she participated in Biogen Idec's biotechnology program for high school students.  Michele is planning on attending Tufts University in the fall.

Yongkang Yu has volunteered for the Somerville Math Fund throughout high school along with participating in the Walk for Hungar for six years.  He particpated in school activities such as the Green Club, Art Club and Science League.  He was on the winning Scrapheap Showdown team, two years in a row.   He wrote about his discovery that he could program video games and of the pleasure and excitement he gets when he sees the result of all those lines of code.  It isn't surprising that he is planning on a major in computer programming and video game design at Northeastern University.
Yongkang received our Lt. Catherine Landers memorial scholarship.

Next April, The Somerville Mathematics Fund will be looking for applications for next  year's scholarships.  Applicants can already be in college or a senior in college when they apply; either way, they need to have lived in Somerville MA while in high school.  The scholarships are renewable for up to four years as long as the student maintains a B average and takes mathematics courses or classes which apply mathematics.

The Somerville Mathematics Fund is an all-volunteer 501(c)(3) charitable organization affiliated with Dollars for Scholars, Scholarship America.  The amount of scholarships awarded are based on the amount of money donated to support these scholarships.  You can contact us about volunteering or making a tax deductible donation.

The URL for this site is: http://somervillemathematics.blogspot.com/2012/06/meet-our-2012-scholarship-winners.html
© 2012 The Somerville Mathematics Fund

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Math Scholarship Winners Announced

The Somerville Mathematics Fund is pleased to announce the winners of their renewable college mathematics scholarships.  The selection committee was impressed by the quality of this year’s applicants and were pleased with the generosity of donors who made it possible to give six scholarships -- two of them in memory of outstanding women.  At the Somerville High School award night, Erica Voolich and Jay Landers, president and treasurer of The Somerville Mathematics Fund, commented on the outstanding winners and gave background on the named scholarships. 

The Somerville Math Fund was created in 2000 to celebrate and encourage mathematics achievement in Somerville and these winners’ mathematics achievements are definitely worth celebrating.  This year’s winners are Zoe Blickenderfer, Nathaniel Dempkowski, Nathan Long, Felice Mancini, Michele Mei and Yongkang Yu.  They are all planning to study mathematics or subjects using mathematics in college.

Zoe Blickenderfer won the Alice T Schafer Scholarship.  Dr. Schafer (1915 - 1909) was orphaned as an infant and raised by two aunts.  When she went to college at the University of Richmond of Virginia, women students weren’t allowed in the library and she was discouraged from majoring in mathematics.  She won prizes, earned a PhD, taught at colleges (including Wellesley) and among the things she is known for is helping start the Association for Women in Mathematics (1971).  Less known about Dr. Schafer was her helping to start the Somerville Mathematics Fund in 2000 -- attending all of the planning meetings and contributing to their work as long as she was able.  She is remembered for her passion and work to insure mathematical opportunities for women.

Yongkang Yu won the Lt. Catherine M Landers Scholarship.  When Lt. Landers (1920 - 2012) wanted to go to nursing school (graduating in 1942), her grandmother opened a cedar chest were she had been saving dollar bills to help pay for her granddaughter’s education.  Lt Landers won a Bronze Star for her service during WW2, where she ran a field hospital outside Paris.   Lt Landers’ family donated a scholarship in her memory honoring her commitment to education.

The Somerville Mathematics Fund, an affiliate of the national scholarship organization Dollars for Scholars, was chartered in 2000 to celebrate and encourage achievement in mathematics in the city of Somerville, Massachusetts.  Last year it was recognized as the outstanding Dollars for Scholars chapter in New England.  Since its founding, it has awarded $184,000 in mathematics scholarships to outstanding Somerville students.  Next fall, The Somerville Mathematics Fund will be seeking applicants from teachers who teach in the city of Somerville who would like funding for classroom mathematics activities.  In October, the Math Fund will also be seeking high school students to compete in the eight annual Scrapheap Showdown.  For information, to volunteer, or to make a tax-deductible contribution, please contact Erica Voolich (617-666-0666 or mathfund@gmail.com) or go to www.somervillemathematicsfund.org

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Math Nights and Afternoons here, there and everywhere!

math games are exciting
One of my dreams when I started the Somerville Mathematics Fund eleven years ago was to see children excited about math and doing math activities together and with their parents.  The Somerville Math Fund is an affiliate of Dollars for Scholars and so clearly we are a scholarship organization.  However, long before high school, children need to be getting ready for those scholarships and so it is important for kids to learn to think mathematically.  

In each of the descriptions below, I have linked the newspaper coverage to the school's name -- go read all about the fun that was had and what students were learning.  As other articles are published, I will update this with links.

For all of these events, the Bickoff family has generously donated pizza.  This had made it possible for families to come to school for a wonderful event with their children even though they tend to conflict with dinner time.

At the end of evening of the K-6th math nights, families go home with activities and materials they use together at home.  The math fund grants pay for these materials along with the "math prizes" at some and the games students play at the events.

I have been visiting math fund funded events all over the city.  The first one was at West Somerville Neighborhood School in February.  After pizza was eaten, the tables were cleared and set up.  This K-6th event had different games and activities by grade but students could try other tables after completing their own activities.  Usually math nights start in the spring but our unusually warm winter allowed this fun night with no snow or ice challenges.
strategies take thought ...  
do you think you control those dice?

The next math night was the K-2nd Argenziano School math night.  This is Agenziano's first year winning a Somerville Mathematics Fund grant for math nights and the teachers ran it as if they had been doing this for years.  They had a wonderfully exciting math night.

rolling the dice for a game on the hundreds board

While a pizza dinner was served on one side of the room, the other side had active math activities led by sixth graders and math games led by teachers.  Once people had eaten, the rest of the cafeteria was setup for games and activities by grade level.  There were many excited intensely involved students along with their parents.  

Later in that same week, middle school students from Healey, Brown, East Somerville Community School at Cummings and West Somerville Neighborhood School celebrated Pi Night at the Healey School.  I coplanned this π event with Wil Jacques, Jack O'Keefe, Theresa MacVicar, Annette Fiori Bassett and Scott Walker. Not only did we have pizza but Table Talk Pies donated large pies for prizes and small pies for everyone. We had community volunteers and wonderful high school students help with each activity.

collecting data: which  is the better target? a 
circle in a square or a square in a circle ... later in math 
class calculations are made to compare experimental 
with theoretical probability
Some activities collected data, some were estimation, other made things.  Always popular is to make are the π Buttons.  Students also made line drawings that produced various curves, circles, nephroids and cardioids.  Students always love the estimating activities.  These included estimating the sizes of circular things around the room, the number of round objects in a jar, estimating by feel and even estimating how far one and a half revolutions of a bike tire will end up.  The data collecting includes comparing targets and collecting tooth pick drops to calculate π (Buffon's Needle problem).  Some students even shared their rap about π.

signing his name on the line predicting where the 
bike wheel will end up

feeling a circular object and estimating the 
circumference in cm
drawing a circle by drawing lines 
(actually tangents to the "circle" which appears)

April has brought four more events.  The first at Winter Hill, then Argenziano and finally two at East Somerville Community School at Edgerly on consecutive days.

The 3rd - 5th Math Night at Winter Hill started with pizza and then the cafeteria tables were cleared for the activities.  Tables were devoted to particular grade levels where students and parents played games together that are related to the classroom curriculum and some others that they can play at home.  There were also games for all levels at one end of the room, a graph collecting data from everyone at the other end, and estimation jars along the side.
Playing a fraction calculation game
The 3rd - 5th Argenziano math night followed the same format as their earlier math night, except this time the grade level for the activities and challenge level of the games changed.

Making sets of proportional fraction cards to use at home

I watched a wonderful moment where a mother and daughter were playing Mankalla and teaching a teacher a variation on the game that they play at home (they block off part of the holes and this makes the game a different strategy challenge). 

blocking part of the Mankalla holes with a cellphone
to make the game more challenging

measuring up

a game using money

Yesterday,  I went to the East Somerville Community School (ESCS) at Edgerly's math event for 2nd-4th.  This year they expanded it to include 2nd grade.  The format is a bit different at ESCS in that they start with the math activity right after school and end with the pizza.  Again, they had games and activities in various rooms, with individual halls devoted to each grade.

learning a new strategy game

Every year, the ESCS math night includes a time for parents to learn something about how math is taught and what they can do to help their children at home,

playing Bump
two cars racing down the ramp ...

One of the activities had 2 students release 2 cars down a ramp at the same time.  Then they had to estimate the distance the car traveled before they could measure it.

The math night at ESCS yesterday was followed by 3rd grade Test Success Day today.  Since the students have never taken MCAS exams prior to 3rd grade, they came to school today to take a practice test (last year's math exam) with either a parent or with a 7th or 8th grader.

 They started with breakfast, ran around in the gym and then tried the sample test while talking through the problems as they did them.  After the test, they learned the new games their parents learned while they were in the gym and then ended with a pizza lunch, and left with gift bags of math supplies.

The session for the parents included information on testing and gave them some math activities they can do at home to help their students. 

This is not the end of the math nights for this year.  Stay tuned to learn about Winter Hill's K-2nd math night and Healey's K-2nd in May and June.  If you have never had the fun of volunteering at a math night, contact me at mathfund@gmail.com to get details about the Healey School Math Night.

©2012, Erica Dakin Voolich
The link for this page is: http://somervillemathematics.blogspot.com/2012/04/math-nights-and-afternoons-here-there.html

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Math Circles

Last weekend I was in DC for the Circle on the Road conference on Math Circles.  I loved the activities that I saw and participated in -- they challenged students to think about, struggle with, and solve interesting math problems in a group setting.  The ones I saw were a great way to help students become mathematical thinkers and problem solvers.

I had the wonderful opportunity to speak about the activities that The Somerville Mathematics Fund uses in our Scrapheap Showdown.  It was nice to hear that others were interested in what we are able to do in our annual engineering challenge for Somerville high school students.  If you haven't read about our adventures, scroll down in this blog to past posts or go to our post about Jamming in the Junkyard.  I always love to share what we do and offer to work with and share ideas with others who want to try this in their own communities.  It was nice to have suggestions from others on where we might get inspiration for designing our problems.

I was invited to speak on Friday, but stayed for the whole conference.  I benefitted from others sharing their ideas from their own work with math circles, some with various ages of children and some with teachers.  Following my talk was a math challenge using the Euclidean Algorithm for GCD that we all participated in.  Then a panel of students who have had experience leading Math Circles.

Saturday they held a math fair at the Ridley Center at the Smithsonian.  There were games and puzzles lining the hallway.  In the classrooms were hour-long age-identified activities/lessons from math circles.  I went to one which took the classic Knights & Liers logic puzzles and brought them down to a level that elementary children were solving them.   I assisted with a Blue Eyed Island logic problems session -- another nice way to act out logic problems for elementary children.

Sunday was more discussions and panels sharing opportunities for children and teachers, math summer opportunities and information on evaluation of math circles.  It ended with Dr Gordon Hamilton sharing his wonderful challenging activities for children of all ages based on some of the unsolved mathematical problems.  He has a website, the Math Pickle where he shares his materials.

There are some exciting things happening in Math Circles around the country and if you'd like to find one, check out the website list.  The talks from the conference are going to be posted on the conference website.  Check back there later to see for yourself.

I am pleased that there is a math circle at Tufts for Somerville students.  I understand there is another one in Somerville, possibly at the Argenziano School, but I have not been able to confirm this or find out how to contact the person who is running it.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Mathematics Teacher Grant Winners Announced

The Somerville Mathematics Fund is pleased to announce the winners of their 2012 grants to teachers who are working on providing the students in Somerville with exciting, challenging  and creative mathematics in their classrooms.  This  year through the generosity of John Bullock they were able to fund a wonderful set of grants.

If you know any of these wonderful teachers, be sure to congratulate them on a job well-done.

• Annette Fiore Bassett at Winter Hill Community School for “K-2 & 3-5 Family Mathematics Nights”
• Laura Bonnell at East Somerville Community School at  Edgerly for “3rd grade Success Day”
• Sally Brith at Next Wave for “Pre-Algebra Curriculum Materials”
• Frances Carino at Winter Hill Community School (4th) for “Math Games”
• Margaret Clapham & Kate Briggs at Healey School (3rd, 4th) for “Think Tank and Figure It Materials”
• Adriane Cruz-Cioppa at Argenziano School (2nd SEIP) for “Resource Activity Center”
• Kristy Desilets at Unidos, East Somerville Community School at Cummings for “Think Tank and Math Games”
• Donna Driscoll at Argenziano School (SEIP, Unidos)  for “K-2, 3-5 Bilingual Family Mathematics Nights”
• Benjamin Hehn at Kennedy School (5th) for “Calculators and Mathematical Posters”
• Cathy Hughes at Kennedy School (1st) for “Math Materials to send home and to differentiate in class”
• Eileen MacDonnell at Healey School (3rd) for “Math Game and Literature”
• Charlene O’Neill at Winter Hill Community School (4th) for “Math Games”
• Roxanne Scrima at Kennedy (K) for “Materials for parent/child activities”
• Zachary Shufran at Winter Hill Community School (3rd-8th,  ELL) “Mathematics Magazines”
• Sharon Sotiros at Kennedy (K) for “Materials for parent/child activities”
• Kathryn Sousa at Argenziano School (1st, SEIP) for “Mathematics Activities for Small Groups”
• Celia Taylor at Healey School for “K-2 Family Mathematics Night”
• Alison Walton at Healey School for “Mathematics Materials for classroom & Take-home”
• Linda Wiegenfeld at East Somerville Community School at Edgerly for “2 – 4 Family Mathematics Night"

            The Somerville Mathematics Fund, an affiliate of the national scholarship organization Dollars for Scholars, was chartered in 2000 to celebrate and encourage achievement in mathematics in the city of Somerville, Massachusetts.  Over eleven years, the math fund has awarded $55,835 in teacher grants in the city of Somerville.

           The Somerville Mathematics Fund is an all-volunteer organization and is able to fund these teacher grants and scholarships based solely on the generosity of their supporters.  You can donate online by going to Community Room thanks to Eastern Bank.

            In early April, the fund will be seeking applications from students who reside in Somerville for college mathematics scholarships.  Copies of the scholarship application form is available at  www.somervillemathematicsfund.org   For more information, to volunteer or to make a tax-deductible contribution, please contact Erica Voolich (666-0666 or mathfund@gmail.com).