After Professor Emily Evans's talk on Sierpinski triangles and pyramids, students created a model using toothpicks and marshmallows.
Most students are more than happy to retire their math textbooks at the end of the school year. But for 40 dedicated middle school students, this summer does not involve a break from learning.
“Math Camp is an opportunity to learn about more complex fields in math than you would learn in school,” said Jacob Grover, 12, a three-year veteran of this atypical summer camp.
Brigham Young University's third annual Math Camp was held in June, attracting students across the Wasatch Front. For two weeks, BYU math professors led classes and activities designed to enrich student education in mathematics.
“Math Camp is not about acceleration but giving depth and understanding to what students have learned in the classroom,” said David Wright, BYU math professor and Math Camp director.
Students had many reasons for attending.
Rachel Gledhill, 11, said Math Camp helped her better understand concepts she learned in school. Some students, such as Lucy Ward, came to Math Camp to improve on tests, including American Mathematics Contest 8, a multiple choice examination given to middle school students to help develop their problem solving skills.
“Kids who come to Math Camp do much better in regular math classes," Wright said. "They have a desire to understand concepts, not just to memorize.”
Students used the textbook, "Introduction to Number Theory," which is part of the "Art of Problem Solving" series. Classes included discussion of divisibility rules, bases, factoring, and modular arithmetic.
At the end of the two-week program, students were tested on their new knowledge. One question from the test, for example, asked, "How many factors does 6,300 have?"
The advanced group was instructed by Hiram Golze, the top scorer on BYU’s nationally ranked 7th place Putnam Competition team. One of Golze's pupils, Annie Yun, 12, said she enjoyed working with students who were just as motivated to do math as she is.
One goal of Math Camp is to teach students the expansive applications of mathematics outside of the classroom. For example, Jeff Humpherys shared a sample problem involving free throw shooting percentage in his afternoon talk on careers in math.
“Math is a vital piece of what we need to learn growing up. You can find math everywhere,” said Max Ricks, 10, the youngest student at Math Camp.
Beverly Ward said her daughter Lucy Ward had a positive experience.
“She has learned to think outside the box more, as a result of participating in the BYU Math Camp, and the look of joy on her face when she has an ‘aha!' moment has been priceless,” Beverly Ward said. She also said she was pleased with Math Camp’s caliber of teachers, the students’ eagerness to learn, and the coverage of advanced math topics to enrich her daughter’s math education.
Other Math Camp students also had good experiences with the teachers.
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“The teachers are amazing," said Ben Stanford, 13. "They don’t make you feel embarrassed if you did something wrong.”
BYU’s Math Camp began three years ago with a Math Enrichment Grant from the Dolciani Foundation. For the past two years, the BYU Department of Mathematics has sponsored the camp. Wright hopes to continue holding Math Camp for many years.
Anne, a BYU student studying nursing, is the projects coordinator for the Brigham Young University's Math Department.