About Julia Robinson Mathematics Festival (JRMF)
Julia Robinson Mathematics Festival supports locally organized events that inspire K–12 students to think critically and to explore the richness and beauty of mathematics through collaborative, creative problem-solving. Our Festivals engage many types of students, including those who don’t enjoy competition or working under time pressure. A Festival is also a community event, bringing together institutions and organizations as their constituents celebrate mathematics.
More popular every year since its first event at Google in 2007, the JRMF flourishes because of dedicated mentors, volunteers, and community support. In particular, we’re grateful to founding host the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute (MSRI). We are also thankful to American Institute of Mathematics (AIM), which since 2013 has been providing resources and support as we seek to bring the Festival to more kids.
A Julia Robinson Mathematics Festival offers students advanced and thought-provoking mathematics in a social and cooperative atmosphere. Students choose among several tables offering problem sets, games, or puzzles with mathematical themes. They work as long as they wish, while a facilitator provides support and encouragement. Motivation comes from the social interaction, rather than from any prize, grade, medal, or ranking. Festivals are run locally and supported by a national network. They can address any level of student, from those struggling with mathematics to those soaring in achievement.
‘I wish they did this every single weekend.
I can’t wait for the next one!’
‘I thought it was fun. There were a lot of interesting things to do and you don’t even know that you’re doing math.’
‘I liked working together with my friends. The teacher at the table didn’t help us much. We did this ourselves.’
A Festival is an event at which students play with mathematics. Typically, there are a dozen or more tables, each with a facilitator and a problem set, game, puzzle, or activity. Students play and explore individually or in groups, share insights, and make discoveries. Facilitators elicit logical processes for approaching, exploring, or solving problems. The facilitator strives to ask questions rather than provide suggestions or answers. Success is not measured by the number of problems solved nor students’ speed, but rather by how long students stick with activities and by the breadth and depth of their explorations and insights.
Festival activities are designed to open doors to higher mathematics for K–12 students, doors that are not at the top of the staircase, but right at street level.
Who attends festivals?
Festivals are customized for the audience at hand. Local organizers specify their intended audience, and the JRMF organization helps select problems. We support Festivals for students in grades K–3 (usually with their parents), for students in grades 4–6, for middle school students, and for high school students. Some Festival activities are accessible to students with almost no mathematical background, while others engage students with deep mathematical experience. And there are activities for students in between. The social interaction attracts and motivates all kinds of students.
‘Our goal was to get kids past being calculators to instead being mathematicians, thinkers and problem solvers. Math doesn’t necessarily have to look the way it does traditionally during the school week.’
‘If we can present math through puzzles and problem-solving in a non-threatening, fun environment – we can host it for kids – that is what it is all about. That is where learning occurs.’
‘We know that kids start to lose interest in STEM careers or math by the time they reach middle school. This is a great way to keep them engaged, keeping those future career pathways open to them longer than if they start to shut down and lose interest in math.’
The local organizers decide whether to target certain grades or a wide band of grades. We support festivals for elementary students only, middle school students only, and middle school/high school students.