Our first annual math festival gave Proofniks a chance to share their love of math with the broader community.


Last Saturday morning, more than a hundred kids and parents from all over the Bay Area showed up at 555 Post Street for the Proof School Math Festival. In some ways, the Festival was probably pretty much what they expected: a giant space full of mathematical displays, puzzles, games, construction toys, and prizes. (I heard one parent exclaim, "This is just like the Exploratorium!") But there was one thing that might have surprised the visitors when they first came in: the people running the show were a bunch of kids!

Eighteen Proofniks, easy to spot in their bright green shirts, guided visitors through the exhibits, taught them how to make modular origami, helped them build icosahedra out of Zometool, and explained the strategies behind mathematical magic tricks. There were a few faculty around for support, but the students were the main faces of the festival. As one visitor put it, "one quickly got used to treating every person in a green shirt as an authority figure, even if that person was an 11-year-old."

The Proofniks did an amazing job getting other kids excited about math--and they had a lot of fun doing it! I loved watching them adjust the level of their explanations to suit now a 5-year-old, now a 13-year-old, now a nitpicky parent "quizzing" them about math. They were patient, kind, and encouraging teachers, and without even noticing it, they were acting as role models for the younger visitors. For instance, the mother of one little girl wrote me that her daughter's favorite part of the Festival was a magic trick that was performed by a "big girl" Proofnik. 

Many more Proofniks were involved behind the scenes during the previous day's Flex Friday period, in which the students got to see just how much work goes into creating a successful public event of this kind. Some students designed and constructed props for the various activities, including a complex Arduino demo; others thought about how best to organize the different festival stations; still others helped the kids who would be there on Saturday practice their explanations and presentations. For two hours, the entire school was a hubbub of coordinated effort.

This year, the ideas for most of the Math Festival activities came from the math teachers. Next year, we plan to get the students involved in even earlier stages of the festival design, so that they can propose and implement their own ideas for mathematical games and exhibits. The Math Festival, which we expect will become a school tradition, is a chance for our students to serve the wider community while developing their skills as mathematical problem-posers, problem-solvers, and communicators.

Let me close with a few more quotes from visiting parents:

  • Our favorite part was the origami--[Proofnik] was such a great explainer!
  • What I found special about the event was the way in which math was highlighted in so many areas of life (nature, art, magic, building, etc.)  I found that so inspiring. 
  • My son is only in kindergarten but loves math ... and is not satiated nearly enough in school. In all honesty, he was like a kid in a candy store yesterday and that melted my heart.  
  • Thanks for organizing this event. My son had a GREAT time. His comment leaving the math fest was something along the lines of “the best two hours ever!” 

A big thanks to all the students, parents, and teachers who made the Math Festival possible!

--Mira Bernstein