Mathematical Circles are a form of educational enrichment and outreach that bring mathematicians and mathematical scientists into direct contact with pre-college students. These students, and sometimes their teachers, meet with mathematical professionals in an informal setting, after school or on weekends, to work on interesting problems or topics in mathematics. The goal is to build on students’ excitement about mathematics by providing a setting that encourages them to express their passion for mathematics. Originally inspired by the Eastern European problem-discussion approach to math education, Math Circles can have a variety of styles. Some are very informal, with the learning proceeding through games, stories, or hands-on activities. Others are more traditional enrichment classes, but without formal examinations. Some have a strong emphasis on preparing for Olympiad competitions; some avoid competition as much as possible. Models can use any combination of these techniques, depending on the audience, the mathematicians, and the environment of the circle. Athletes have sports teams that deepen their involvement with sports; math circles can play a similar role for kids who like to think about math. One thing all math circles have in common is that the students enjoy learning mathematics, and the circle gives them a social context in which to do so.
The DC Math Circle in particular is on the informal side of things, avoiding traditional classroom formats, examinations, and preparation for competitions in favour of fun and the richness of mathematical discovery!