How To Start a Homeschool Math Club

From a recent e-mail:

“Hello! I am on the board of a homeschool co-op. We have had requests for a math club and wondered if you have any tips for starting one. We service children from K-10th and would need to try to meet the needs of as many ages as possible.”

There are several ways you might organize a homeschool math club, depending on the students you have and on your goals. I think you would have to split the students by age groups — it is very hard to keep that wide of a range of students interested. Then decide whether you want an activity-oriented club or a more academic focus.

When I started my first math club, I raided the math shelves in the children’s section at my library (510-519) for anything that interested me. I figured that if an activity didn’t interest me, I couldn’t make it fun for the kids. Over the years we have done a variety of games, puzzles, craft projects, and more — always looking for something that was NOT like whatever the kids would be doing in their textbooks at home.

Last year, a friend talked me into working with the MathCounts team, and I discovered the world of math competitions. What fun! For next year’s co-op math classes, I plan to alternate between games/activities and some academic challenges from the competition-prep books at Art of Problem Solving.

Let’s look at the possibilities by grade level:

Early Elementary

Hands-on activities, finding and making patterns, measuring, comparing data. Family Math and its spin-offs would be a great place to start looking for ideas. You could also use some of the game ideas in my Number Bonds and Elementary Problem Solving blog posts. I would encourage parents to stay in with these younger students and help them through the activities, if possible.

Middle Elementary Through Middle School

We usually start with a warm-up type activity, a short game or puzzle like those in my Math War and Teaching Negative Numbers blog posts. Then we move on to our bigger project for the session. That may be something like the Function Machine. Students always enjoy strategy games. We have made up story problems for each other, done some hands-on algebra with the younger kids, cut up Mobius strips, made flexagons, built giant polyhedra out of drinking straws, played with logic puzzles, etc.

Look for ideas in Family Math and in books by Marilyn Burns, Theoni Pappas, and Claudia Zaslavsky. Or you might browse some of the websites listed on my resource page for ideas.

This is also a good age to start on math competitions, like the Mathematical Olympiads or MathCounts. These encourage students to think more creatively about math and build their problem-solving skills.

Junior High and Older

Some of the advanced variations of Math War would make a good warm-up, or for an older group of students I had a few years ago, I bought Theoni Pappas’s Mathematics Calendar and looked for problems on that. They liked the fact that no matter how difficult the problem looked, the answers would always be whole numbers, never greater than 31. For our main activities, we have done trigonometry and surveying, made flexagons, puzzled through Lewis Carroll soriteses, played with the Function Machine, etc. Some of these activities were the same as with the middle-school group, but with more mathematical vocabulary, more complicated functions, or perhaps with some proofs thrown in to spice things up.

Books by Brian Bolt are full of interesting ideas for this age group. Competitions for this age group include MathCounts and the American Mathematics Competitions.

Math History

Another approach to a math co-op would be to survey the history of math. I know that I personally have learned a lot through studying how mathematical ideas developed in history. I have not tried this approach with a co-op class yet, but I have been doing a little math history with my Alexandria Jones blog posts. There are several books that you might find helpful — try www.livingmath.net for tips and book lists. One advantage to the historical approach is that you might be able to combine a wider age-range of students in a single class. If you do try it, please write and let me know how it goes.

Finally, a caveat: Every once in awhile, one of my classes will run into an activity that flops — usually because I picked something that turns out to be too hard for the kids. They are patient with me, however, and overall they seem to enjoy the math clubs. At least, I have been told that some students actually begged their parents to let them come back!

Update

For more ideas and a video example, check out Math Clubs, Math Circles, and the Richmond Math Salon.


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13 thoughts on “How To Start a Homeschool Math Club

  1. My son has created a very helpful site for homeschooling families looking for math contests:

    http://www.homeschoolmathcontests.com

    It has over 25 contests open to individual homeschoolers ages 5-19, organized in a chart with ages, due dates, prizes, and descriptions, to make it easy to figure out which are the best fit for your kids. In addition, he has listed over 100 regional meets by state for homeschool families who would enjoy the excitement of participating in large, local math competitions.

    The site also includes curriculum reviews and helpful articles about how to integrate contests with your curriculum.

    We hope this website is a blessing to other families.

    Elizabeth Fox

  2. I have difficulties in teaching my daugter math at home even though she is not homeschooling, especailly in finding appropriate curriculum. I think your post and link will help me in having mathematic fun with my daughter!!

  3. you have been very helpful. now, with what you have shared me will boost my confidence of being the math club adviser for this coming school year in our school.

  4. Your articles has revealed that, maths club makes the learning of maths simple. I have just introduced it in my school and really, the learning of maths is simple, less-bored, concrete and highly appreciated with the place of the club. We also go on excursion: visiting mathslab in schools and colleges. It’s helpful. Thanks a lot.

  5. Because my students have such a hard time with negative numbers (ie: solve for y in y + 25x = 3x + 7), I started thinking about what the problem was. I would get answers like “y = -28x + 7” or “y = 22x + 7” so it was obvious there was a lack of understanding of negatives.

    For my thesis, I began looking into when negative numbers are taught- 7th grade! What?? That’s too late in my opinion. Then I began to look into HOW they are taught- with a number line. But at the very beginning of the first lesson in 7th grade, there is a picture of a boy with a caption above his head reading “I owe my dad $4. I have -$4”

    So this idea of owing is tied directly into negatives. So I thought about owing someone some money, paying some back, and figuring out how much more I owed.

    If I borrowed $12 and paid you back $7, the problem would look like “-12 + 7” but I would solve the problem, in my head, by counting from 7 to 12. This is not the way we are taught in school. The way we are taught in school is to “find -12 on the numberline, count 7 to the right, see what number you land on.” But this isn’t what we do in real life!

    Absolute value is the answer. Although “take the difference between the absolute values of the two numbers” is a bit of a moutful, it is the way to go. This way both numbers, -12 and 7, are treated as real numbers instead of -12 being treated as a number and 7 being treated as a movement. I really think that if we teach kids this way they will begin to see the relationship between positives and negatives and no longer make mistakes when they get to me!

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