Math Festival Ignites Creativity and Collaboration

On Sunday, April 15, The Ellis School hosted students, families, and community members at the Julia Robinson Mathematics Festival (JRMF) for a day of fun, open-ended mathematical activities. Started in 2007 by Google, Julia Robinson Mathematics Festivals have been popping up all over the country since, with Ellis being the first school in Western Pennsylvania to host a festival. Named after late mathematician Julia Robinson who was best known for her solution to Hilbert’s Tenth Problem, the festivals are non-competitive community events that “inspire K–12 students to explore the richness and beauty of mathematics through collaborative, creative problem-solving.”
“When the idea of hosting a Julia Robinson Mathematics Festival at Ellis came up, it made a lot of sense to us as a mathematics department because we are an all-girls school,” said Cara LaRoche, Mathematics Department Chair. “If anyone should host a mathematics festival named after a famous female mathematician, it’s Ellis!”

And while you may think a mathematics festival doesn’t typically scream “party!”, registration for JRMF reached maximum capacity the week of the event and a waitlist had to be started for hopeful attendees. In the end, the School ended up welcoming close to 200 people to the festival, including students from over two dozens areas schools.

At the festival, students made their way through a series of rotating stations facilitated by table leaders who offered guidance, rather than answers, if they became perplexed or stumped by a problem. With no time limits or red pens in sight, students were free to problem-solve creatively and collaboratively as they completed activities and competed in games like: SET, Battle Sheep, Dominoes, Geometiles, Chocolate Fix, and Magic Squares, to name a few.  From plenty of “a-ha!” moments to celebratory high-fives and hugs, JRMF had Janet’s Gym buzzing with excitement as attendees celebrated the challenges, thrills, and pitfalls that go hand-in-hand with mathematical problems and puzzles.

“The festival was really all about giving kids the opportunity to have fun around mathematics,” said Ms. LaRoche. “At the end of the day, some of them were so engaged, they didn’t want to leave. We were shutting down tables and they were still playing!”

JRMF at Ellis proved to attendees that mathematics shouldn’t be considered a solitary, intimidating subject—but an exploratory, collaborative one that you can get better at with practice. Afterall, mathematics teaches students to think logically, take risks, and troubleshoot when an initial idea doesn’t pan out as planned. Whether it’s a family game of SET, brain teasers after-school, or a Sudoku puzzle at lunch, building expertise in mathematics—in a fun format like JRMF—empowers kids of all ages and enriches their classroom learning experience.

A complete success from start to finish, JRMF at Ellis was an inclusive, welcoming event that had students as young as first grade envisioning themselves as mathematicians and problem solvers. Thank you to everyone who attended and thank you to our sponsors, Giant Eagle and Henderson Brothers, for your support!
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