After a week of mathematical exploration, we turned our attention to communicating our ideas.


This past Friday marked the first ever Math Burst Symposium at Proof School. Over the course of two hours we were transported to a realm of combinatorial game strategies, patterns among Fibonacci numbers, a Ramsey theory question about graphs, and much more. A lively poster session punctuated pairs of talks and the time flew by. As one parent remarked, this didn’t feel like a secondary school science fair so much as a conference for first-year graduate students!

The Math Burst Symposium was the culmination of two solid weeks of mathematical exploration, discovery, and preparation by Proof Schoolers. Following a very successful Math Burst, students used each of the afternoons during the past week to prepare slides or posters that would communicate their findings from the week before. Our math faculty worked closely with students to hear practice talks, offer feedback on poster design, and share tips on how to get complicated ideas across to a general audience.

As one of the faculty members who worked with the students preparing talks, I can confidently report that they made enormous strides in their ability to craft a fifteen minute presentation. On average each team of students gave two practice talks; with each successive delivery the quality of the talk improved dramatically. I’ve worked with college students for years in the art of developing effective oral presentations. It is not an exaggeration to say that many of our students are operating at a comparable level: in the sophistication of the topics they are presenting, the clarity of their explanations, and the quality of their slides.

I’m not hesitant to acknowledge that our talks and posters were not uniformly polished. It always takes a great deal of time and effort (not to mention a willingness to heed advice) for a presentation to truly sparkle. We guided the kids, but did not tell them exactly what to say or write. We also did not just showcase the all-star presentations; every student was featured at the symposium. The take-home message is this: when a poster or talk was great, the team of students responsible for it knew that they had accomplished something excellent. They owned it, from the original math they had thought to explore all the way to the creative means they found to share it. We, their teachers, are even more proud of them than the guests who were present, because we know for a fact that they deserve virtually all the credit.

Math Burst Symposium 2016 was an exhilarating day. We are looking forward to continuing and building on this tradition for years to come. Thanks once again to all the parents who found a way to attend on a Friday morning—you made this event truly memorable.

-- Sam Vandervelde