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Camp shows that math equals fun

[Math Quest]
Math Quest instructors Asia Matthews and Johanna Hansen have a bit of fun with the camp's director Siobhain Broekhoven as they pose for a photo with the sculptures in front of Jeffery Hall at Queen's University.

By Andrew Carroll, Gazette editor

Mathematics is fun.

That’s the message the organizers and instructors at an upcoming math camp for girls want to get across. And they know that it’s true. It’s a big part of their lives.

Math Quest, a four-day camp sponsored by the Canadian Mathematical Society and the Queen’s University Department of Mathematics and Statistics, is aimed at introducing high-school aged participants to the full breadth of mathematics through activities that are fun.

This is not math tutoring. There are no tests involved.

However, participants will surely leave with a greater knowledge of and appreciation for mathematics.

“Math is fun and I think that’s the part sometimes people don’t realize. People who have a bit of math anxiety don’t see that,” says Siobhain Broekhoven, the camp’s director. “Some people think it’s absolutely fun and that’s what this camp is all about.”

Two of those people are Asia Matthews and Johanna Hansen, Ph.D. students at Queen’s, who are instructors at the camp.

In her third year with Math Quest, Ms. Matthews sees the benefits of the camp.

“I wish there was this opportunity when I was in high school to say, ‘Oh look, there’s this thing called number theory which is really interesting and there’s combinatorics where you count things in different ways and there’s algebra which is this very abstract way of seeing groups of things,” she says. “There’s calculus and geometry, where calculus is this idea of how to describe motion and how to predict the future. I didn’t know any of that in high school.”

These aren’t you typical lessons either. Ms. Matthews will be using origami to discuss geometry while Ms. Hansen will approach probability through taking a closer look at Texas Hold’em. Another instructor and Ph.D. student, Carly Rozins, will be introducing the mathematics of nature, such as patterns seen in flowers. Each brings something that is interesting to them and that they hope will be interesting to others.

However, there also is another purpose to the camp which is to address a decrease in the number of girls attending math camps across Canada.

“Looking at the stats, even for the Canadian Mathematical Society camps that run across the country, in 2012 about 30 per cent of the participants were girls and last summer it was 20 per cent and I thought ‘What was going on?’ says Ms. Broekhoven. “We have to ask why are girls not engaged, why are they not signing up for these things? What is it about the activities? Are they too competitive or what is it that is not appealing? Women are a resource we need to utilize and that starts with getting young women engaged."

Research shows activities designed to engage girls are hands-on, project based, have real life applications and include lots of opportunities to work together cooperatively. The presence of female role models is the icing on the cake. I think it’s about time.”

This year’s camp has expanded to offer campers the opportunity to stay in residence. Ms. Broekhoven says this allows the camp further reach but also can introduce local girls to the university experience.

The deadline for bursaries, including one sponsored by the Queen’s University Alumni Association, to assist campers in covering the costs of the camp, has also been extended.

Math Quest runs daily 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. from Aug. 11 to 14 on Queen's campus.

For information on the camp or to register, call 613-533-2432 or visit www.mast.queensu.ca/~mathquest