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...
How will parents react?
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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.)
- 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.
- 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
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
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?
- If a student introduces the idea that they really want to be in the other
group, don't push them to stay with their own gender. Let them join the
- Never compare girls and boys. For example, once you start your math
club and girls are getting right to work but the boys across the hall are not
settled yet (or vice versa), don't ask the group in question why they can't
get to work as quickly as the students of the opposite gender. This will only
cause grief and anguish when students interpret your comments as biased
or even sexist. It is appropriate to note for yourself how the groups seem
to be working and then to use this information to build a better co-ed class.
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.
- mathematics includes not just arithmetic, but a much broader range of
topic areas, including two-dimensional and three-dimensional geometry,
the mathematics of change, number theory, patterns and functions, and data
- everyone is involved with investigations that engage them and are
congruent with their interests and skills.
- students' projects and games involve actively constructing, discussing,
debating, reading, and working.
- the work involves collaboration with business and community members.
- the atmosphere is challenging and allows many opportunities to make
mistakes and revisions, and to explore new questions that come up as
- there are no formal "tests," but students have plenty of opportunity to
think, hypothesize, problem solve, make models, and test theories. They
demonstrate their thinking through talking and writing about their work.
- the teacher's role as club leader is that of a guide and coach who poses
interesting questions, has a multitude of ideas for investigations and
projects, and helps children find resources for undertaking their projects.
We believe that any reform oriented curriculum activities such as Marilyn
Burn's replacement units, Number Power, TIMS, or
Investigations in Number, Data, and Space could be appropriate for
math club. Pilot schools used Investigations in Number, Data, and Space curriculum units. This
curriculum was developed at TERC with support from the National Science
Foundation. It is published by Dale Seymour. Those pilot teachers still
using traditional textbooks during regular math class found math club was
a place to try new areas of mathematics and determine what to bring into
the regular classroom.
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.