matthias beck

some of matt's pictures

MATH 314

Math Circle Seminar

Spring 2009

Meeting times: MWF 4:35-5:25 TH 335
Prerequisites: MATH 301
Instructor: Dr. Matthias Beck
Office: Thornton Hall 933
Office hours: M 2:00-3:00 & by appointment

This seminar provides the opportunity for students to relate the mathematics they are learning to the teaching and learning of mathematics and problem-solving skills at the middle and high school levels through participation in Math Circles.

This course is designed for mathematics majors who are considering teaching math at the middle or high school level. Students will have the opportunity to actively experience Math Circles, which are after-school programs focusing on problem-learning skills through interesting math problems. They will see firsthand a non-traditional approach to teaching, work with middle and high school students from a variety of cultures, and learn and try out both problem-solving skills and research-based methods for teaching mathematics.

Students will be actively involved in the San Francisco Math Circle. Starting with February 2, our Monday meetings will take place in the actual circle. MATH 314 is a designated community service learning course. Students who opt for the CSL option commit to at least 20 hours of the semester in a community service setting (e.g., the SF Math Circle), and the number of hours they complete will be recorded on their official transcript.


  • Robert & Ellen Kaplan, Out of the Labyrinth, Oxford University Press, 2008
  • Sam Vandervelde, Circle in a Box, MSRI/American Mathematical Society, 2009
  • Paul Zeitz, The Art and Craft of Problem Solving, Wiley, 2006

All of these are suggested readings, thus it is not necessary for you to purchase all the text books. In the first weeks of the semester, you will start focusing on a specific project, after which you will decide which text book(s) to rely on.

Grading system & due dates:

30% Homework
20% Biography paper (due March 2)
20% Circle visit paper (due April 13)
20% Final paper (due May 15)
10% Participation

I want to ensure that each of you accomplishes the goals of this course as comfortably and successfully as possible. At any time you feel overwhelmed or lost, please come and talk with me.

Homework: There will be weekly homework problems, due on the beginning of each Friday class. Typically you'll be expected to work out a specific math circle problem and write a paragraph or two how you would present it to students. We can discuss the homework problems at any time during class.

Papers: You will work on three papers throughout the semester. Each of them should contain some reflection on your experience in the math circle classrooms. The first paper should concentrate on your own school experience and how you compare this with your first impressions of the SF Math Circle. For the second paper you will visit some of the other Math Circles in the Bay Area (Berkeley, Oakland, San Jose, Stanford) and write about your experiences there, comparing them with the SF Math Circle. For the final paper, you will work out (in teams) a full math circle session. All papers should be addressed to an audience similar to our Math 314 class. As with the homework, you're always welcome to discuss your papers with me before they are due.

The library hosts an excellent research guide on strategies, reference citing, searching, and much more. As an optional writing guide, I recommend Gerald Graff & Cathy Birkenstein's They Say/I Say: The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing (W. W. Norton, 2007).

Special events: There are some (free) special events that are not mandatory but well worth going to (and they can count towards your CSL hours):

Some more general fine print:
SFSU academic calender
Math typesetting programs
CR/NCR grading
Incomplete grades
Late and retroactive withdrawals
Students with disabilities
Religious holidays

This syllabus is subject to change. All assignments, as well as other announcements on tests, policies, etc., are given in class. If you miss a class, it is your responsibility to find out what's going on. I will try to keep this course web page as updated as possible, however, the most recent information will always be given in class. Always ask lots of questions in class; my courses are interactive. You are always encouraged to see me in my office.

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