How to Start Your Own Math Clubs: Frequently Asked Questions

How can I start my own math club?

Use this web site as a resource. Then...

  1. Find a partner who teaches the same grade in your school. See whether you can coordinate your math teaching time one day a week for an hour in order to trade boys and girls to create two single gender groups.
  2. Choose an area of mathematics or curriculum materials that you are not currently using, but that you would like to explore with a colleague. For example other teachers have enjoyed using math club as a place to experiment with Investigations in Number, Data, and Space™ geometry units. It is important that both club leaders use the same materials. This will keep your work in accord with Title 9, the landmark legislation which insures equal opportunities for girls and boys in school. (See below for more information on choosing appropriate activities.)
  3. Talk to your principal. Bring her or him into the discussion about what math topics you will teach in math club. Propose sending an introductory letter to parents to introduce the project. (See the sample letter on this web site.) If you expect that you will need manipulatives or extra materials for math club, discuss the possibility of allocating PTO or other local grant moneys to the project.
  4. Plan your club activities together, and decide who will teach the girls first and who will teach the boys. Also decide when you will switch so that each of you gets to lead both groups. We think it is critical that each participating teacher experience both groups. It feels fair to students, and you will gain much more perspective on the dynamics of the co-ed group if you see both girls and boys as single gender groups. You may want to propose a time limit for the project initially -- say 12 to 16 weeks. If you think you and your students are benefiting you can continue longer. (All thirteen of our pilot classrooms have chosen to continue.)
  5. Read the introductory activities outlined on this Web site. If possible try and have both teacher leaders in the room when you introduce clubs to each co-ed class that will participate.
  6. Read the section on establishing business and/or parent partnerships and decide which model you would like to use. Contact local businesses or parents to invite them to participate in your math clubs.
How will parents react?

Our experience is that parents are much more open to single gender math clubs than administrators and teachers think they will be. It is critical to send an introductory letter home, to take time to introduce the idea to students, and to be clear with everyone that these clubs are another chance to communicate our high expectations for girls and boys in mathematics. At each pilot school parents were delighted with math clubs in large part because their children enjoyed them tremendously. They also provided opportunities for parent involvement. Students brought games home and many parents came to school to discuss the mathematics they do in their work.

If parents ask questions about the validity of math clubs, acknowledge the history of single gender education. Single gender education has been wonderful -- emancipating -- in many situations, but it has also been used to oppress girls and women. Communicate that your goal is to provide opportunities for both girls and boys in mathematics. Girls and boys do the same challenging work in math club. Many teachers who have led single gender groups report that the opportunity has helped them get to know students more deeply as mathematical learners. Ultimately the goal of math clubs is to use the experience of teaching girls and boys alone to shed light on and improve the co-ed classroom environment for all students.

What kinds of reactions should I expect from students?

Over 95% of students in pilot classrooms said they would recommend single gender math clubs to students from other schools. Students enjoyed the opportunity to explore complex mathematical problems in a low key environment. Girls and boys also reported that being with their own gender was highly desirable and sometimes even relaxing for them. Since clubs met only once a week for an hour, students knew they would see their friends of the opposite sex shortly.

Preventing potential problems - tips from teacher leaders

How can I choose appropriate mathematics activities?

When choosing curriculum materials for math club, use the following assumptions to guide your choices:

We suggest choosing strands of activities that allow you to explore areas of mathematics, such a geometry and data analysis, which have not traditionally been part of the elementary program, and which may be new to you. If your school has already adopted a reform-oriented curriculum, then choose parts of the curriculum that you might not have allocated time for in the regular class. There may be a debate going on in your school about the merits of the NCTM standards. In this case math club can be an opportunity to try out standards-based materials without throwing out what you've been using. Rather, you can bring information from both settings to your decision-making process.

Sample math club plan:

Fifth grade teachers in Stockbridge, MA, who had mostly used a traditional textbook before starting math clubs, chose to structure their first 18 weeks of math club with the following activities:

Weeks 1-4:  Number Games.
Teachers chose number games from the Investigations curriculum which reinforced ideas they were discussing in the regular math class. After learning and playing the games in math club, students brought them home to play with their families. Games were Close to 100, Close to 1000, Division Bingo, and Count and Compare.

Weeks 5-12:  Geometry.
Teachers used Seeing Solids and Silhouettes, a replacement unit from Investigations in Number, Data, and Space which would normally be done every day for three weeks, and they taught the first two investigations or sections once a week in math club.

Weeks 13-18:  Fractions.
Teachers used Different Shapes, Equal Pieces from Investigations and taught the first investigation or section in math club.

If you are drawing from curriculum materials which jump from topic to topic rather than building on one area at a time, we suggest going through the materials and pulling a strand of activities together related to one topic. Otherwise it will be hard to build continuity since math club is already different from the regular class.

last modified July 1997
© Copyright 1997 TERC, All Rights Reserved.