[This is a guest post made by my sister, Yulia Shpilman, about the awesome math festival that she organized last weekend.]
So I finally did it! I organized a math festival (thank you to Jane Kats for her inspiration and many, many words of advice throughout the process!). This is a little report for posterity of what transpired and how everything worked out.
General statistics: ~90 kids ages 3 to 12 (so if each child came with 1 adult on average, we had about that many adults too), ~20 volunteers plus a bunch of teenagers helping, 10 big stations. The flow was good, none of the stations were really ever overcrowded, and mostly none were empty. It lasted 3 hours.
Building: we were in a lovely building of a small local private elementary school, The Classical Academy in Bryn Mawr, PA. The space turned out to be ideal for the festival. We had four large classrooms with mutiple stations in each, a few activities in the hallway and a huge basement space for various building activities. We also had a separate room in the basement with toys for little kids.
Stations: We had 10 stations, which felt like a really good number, though some were more popular than others.
- Math Art / Tessellations – little kids made tessellating patterns with magnets and pattern blocks, older kids used stencils to draw and color tessellations. This station was quite popular and busy the whole time. It was organized by my sister, Sasha Fradkin.
- Logic and spacial puzzles – tetromino, pentamino, qbitz, tangram along with some logic puzzles. This station mostly attracted younger kids (6 and younger), probably because the older kids saw the little guys and decided to skip the room altogether. We had 3 volunteers for 3 hours, and they took turns taking breaks, which worked out well.
- King Kvadratus,Skyscrapers and Matchstick puzzles – this was a quiet and less popular station. I think part of the reason is that it wasn’t as visually colorful as many of the other stations and the puzzles were geared towards slightly older kids. But the kids who came really enjoyed it! Need to think about what to add to this room to make it more enticing next time. Although at one point, five dads were gathered around one skyscraper puzzle (which they declared unsolvable) – it was very cute 🙂
- Games station – this actually was not as popular as I would have expected. I think a group of teenagers sitting together maybe just seemed intimidating. It also appears that the location of the station, which seemed prominent to me, was actually not as visible as I expected – next time, it would be better to put games in the hallway or combine with another quiet station
- Beautiful geometry – platonic solids and mobius strips – this was the first station that people came across and it was very popular and crowded throughout the whole time. Kids got to make and cut Mobius strips three different ways (one formed two interlocking hearts in honor of Valentine’s Day!) and make their own tetrahedrons and octohedrons. The fact that Tanya and Vera had these stations also definitely helped – they were wonderful, as always 🙂
- Projections – this had a lot of potential (in my opinion) but didn’t quite pan out because its leader was less than excited about it. Good learning for the future. I think the material can be reused.
- Origami – Lhianna heroically manned this station for 3 full hours (since no one else really knew how to fold the figures :)). It was very popular, especially amoung 7-8 year old girls. Some of them stood there, patiently folding, for 45 minutes straight and created some beautiful pieces!
- Mindreading ball – Yura brought his computer and demonstrated many cool math tricks. It looked as if the computer could read your mind – the kids were enthralled!
- Mathematical models – Rick brought neat games and tricks to show that things aren’t always what they seem. For example, can you take two squares off of opposite corners of a chessboard and tile the rest with dominos? Feels like you should be able to, but it doesn’t work! The kids were very intrigued and engaged and many kids hung out at this table for a long time to figure out what was going on.
- Building extravaganza – this was probably the most popular and visually exciting part of the festival. The highlight was, of course, the structures made out of newspaper rolls – kids from 3 to 16 quite enjoyed this activity. My dad, Boris Ovetsky, tirelessly built with the kids for three hours straight! Some built houses and others dodecahedrons 🙂 We also built with chickpeas and toothpicks and with Keva blocks.
We also had a quest with problems of three different levels (thanks to the incredible Natasha Ter-Saakov), which was very popular with some kids. They didn’t even know they got a chocolate for solving the problems at the end – they just had fun finding and solving them!
We also decided to keep the lego table and the train table out for the little guys but put it in a separate room – very good decision! It was quite a popular spot most of the festival – kids went there to take a break.
Our most were amazing, very engaged and super helpful. The station leaders who created their own stations were incredible. I was worried that 3 hours was too long, but the atmosphere was relaxed enough that most got breaks and didn’t get burned out. At stations where there were multiple volunteers, it worked really well – they were able to take turns taking breaks. Note to self to orchestrate that better next time. The teenage helpers could be better leveraged next time – maybe they can be assigned to help kids of the station leaders, some of whom ran around aimlessly some of the time 🙂
Overall, I’m really happy with how it turned out. People were excited, friendly and complimentary (with very few exceptions). Kids ages 6+ were able to navigate on their own a lot and actually focused and participated instead of creating mischief. There were almost no meltdowns from kids of any ages – which is impressive for a 3-hour event. Also, there wasn’t much loud running around and wreaking havoc – I was worried about that, but it didn’t transpire.