Published May 20, 2021 by Rina Neiman

MAA Focus: Despite Pandemic JRMF Expands Around the World

JRMF staffer, Rena Chen, joins 7 students from Saudi Arabia on a Zoom call. Each attendee is in a separate square. There are 4 males and 4 females, 3 of the females are wearing head scarves. 2 are wearing glasses.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the Julia Robinson Mathematics Festival (JRMF) collaborated with organizations around the world to produce in-person festivals. As of December 2019, JRMF had hosted nearly 500 events in 26 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and 17 foreign countries. 2020 was gearing up to be JRMF’s biggest year yet with a projected 150 festivals scheduled around the world. Then the pandemic hit and all in-person events were forced to grind to a halt.

Moving online turned out to be an opportunity to revamp our activities and reach a whole new audience. Very quickly it became clear that being online gave us access to groups and individuals who were searching for engaging mathematical activities and were pleased to find JRMF and connect with others who shared their interest.

Hector Rosario, PhD, Director of Outreach and Festivals and lead on all Spanish language events, put it this way: “We might not agree on what happens after we die. We might not agree on where souls come from. We might not agree on so many things, but there are things that we can agree on. If we focus on the things that bring us together, say, the joy of experiencing, not only mathematics, but the joy of learning, that builds bridges.”
Nancy Blachman, founder of JRMF, added: “Our math activities are bringing people together from around the world. We have participants from over half the states in the U.S., and nearly two dozen countries using our activities. Our webinars are attended by math enthusiasts from across the U.S. and around the world. We have had more people from different places engage in the same event at the same time than pre- COVID.”

We’ve had the privilege of working with and growing a strong Spanish community through our webinars, webinars-on-request, and teacher trainings. Led by our master teacher, Hector Rosario, JRMF trains dozens of educators and students each week via our online webinars. We’ve been able to cultivate a loyal, consistent, tight-knit Spanish community since the start of the pandemic that includes representatives from Argentina, Mexico, Ecuador, Colombia, Panama, Venezuela, Peru, Chile, Spain, Uruguay, Honduras, and Costa Rica. During the last week of October 2020, JRMF moderated a webinar for over 50 teachers from Argentina.

As we grow, we find ourselves interacting with more communities around the world.

Some of the new JRMF initiatives include:

Saudi Arabia: In February 2021, JRMF began working with 11th grade Saudi Arabian student volunteers through SYAG (syag.sa/) and Mawhiba (mawhiba.org/en/), two organizations that help Saudi youth with volunteer and leadership opportunities. We have hosted facilitator trainings to guide them in the use of our activities and materials and in the planning and organization of their own virtual and, later, in-person festivals. We are working with these students to form JRMF clubs in several major Saudi Arabian cities and rural areas. This group is working on Arabic translations of our JRMF activities.

India: In November 2020, JRMF worked with a group of high school students in India to run a virtual festival for younger students. We also have attendees from India join us for a monthly social where they have the opportunity to mix and mingle with other adult recreational math enthusiasts.

Israel: For most of 2020, JRMF hosted weekly activity webinars in Hebrew with a vibrant group of educators. Though the program is currently on hiatus, many of our materials were translated into Hebrew.

Ghana: In 2018, JRMF co-hosted a festival in Ghana with the MISE Foundation (misemaths.wordpress.com/) and the Al-Rayan International School (aris.edu.gh/) Maths Department. A second JRMF in-person festival scheduled for 2021 is currently in the planning stages.

Turkey: In February 2021, a teacher in Turkey who wanted to translate our materials into Turkish and set up facilitator trainings contacted JRMF. Then another teacher contacted us, then a third. We assumed they knew each other, but, to our surprise, each had discovered us online and reached out on their own. Our materials are currently being trans- lated into the Turkish language.

Russia: JRMF moderates a “Sister Schools” program where groups of students from two schools meet synchronously to explore an activity. In December 2020, we ran our first program with students from Russia and the U.S. in a joint online event.

Mathematical activities bring people together.

We are excited to continue to expand our work to students and educators around the world and create a multicultural, multi-language experience around mathematics. With the focus on collaboration, engagement, and discovery-based learning, JRMF aims to inspire the next generation of problem-solvers.

Caucasian woman with shoulder length dark hair, smiling with dark navy framed glasses, dangling gold earrings, and iridescent sequin lined black tank top with a blurred background of wooden fences and trees.

Rina Z. Neiman is a public relations professional, an event producer, and author. She published her first novel, Born Under Fire, in 2018. ​She has learned that there is no such thing as a “math person”. She loves word puzzles and aspires to be a mathlete.

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