Girls Summer Math Camp a fun new way to spend the summer
When you’re a teenage girl thinking of a fun way to spend your summer vacation, doing math problems usually isn’t at the top of your list. University of Manitoba Professor Susan Cooper is on a mission to change that. Cooper and the Department of Mathematics offered a math camp this past July 19th for Grade 7 & 8 girls who have an interest in and aptitude for the subject.
Called M.A.G.I.C. (Math And Girls In Contact), the camp was free to applicants, who were placed in small groups to work on a project about containing infectious diseases and investigating vaccination and quarantine rates. Emphasis was put on real-life problem-solving skills, as well the chance to enjoy mathematical games and guest presentations. The focus was not only on math, but on opportunities for the young women to meet and work with other girls who enjoy the subject.
Mathematics department head Dr. Stephen Kirkland enthusiastically supported M.A.G.I.C. when Cooper suggested the project. He was happy to provide a venue for young women to explore their affinity for math:
“M.A.G.I.C. gives girls the chance to get together and have some fun with mathematics in an environment that encourages curiosity and camaraderie. The girls that pursue their interest in mathematics will have a wide range of opportunities open to them going forward – we’re hoping that M.A.G.I.C. will encourage them to grab the keys and begin that exciting journey.”
This wasn’t Cooper’s first encounter with a math program aimed at teenage girls. She was introduced to the concept of an all-girls math camp at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, although that version was directed towards high school students. It inspired Cooper to put on a similar camp that gave a genuine introduction to mathematics research and problem-solving.
“There seems to be plenty of opportunities for high school students, but I wanted to give a rich mathematical experience for younger girls in hopes of piquing their interest so that they are more attracted to mathematics in high school. I chose to work in an all-girls setting since research shows that it is around this age that girls start to shy away from STEM subjects. Having the girls engage in real-life problem solving shows them that mathematics is not just full of plug-and-chug formula chasing – this is the type of stereotype that I am attempting to smash.”
When the girls were asked what they might have been doing if they hadn’t attended MAGIC, answers included swimming, biking, playing video games and sleeping: the usual assortment of activities for teens during a long, hot summer. None of them mentioned mathematics, in any form. After M.A.G.I.C., however, their enthusiasm for math camp was obvious:
“It was really fun hanging out with girls that enjoy math.” ~ Natalie M.
“Wonderful bonding experience with other girls with the same passion of math as I have!” ~Rhea
“I had lots of fun! The questions made us use our brains creatively, and it didn’t feel like school.” ~ Kiana P.
“I really enjoyed it, the math seemed challenging at first but it got me to think about math in a different way and to try to solve the math problems.” ~ Quinn
In light of these positive responses, Cooper is certain that this girl-centric math camp has given participants a new appreciation for the wonder of this age-old science. She looks forward to many more summer days spent making M.A.G.I.C. For more information on this year’s camp, please visit http://www.sci.umanitoba.ca/magic/