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Elena Blanter - Co-founder of Standford Math Circle

Archimath Blog

Who is she?

She received her Master’s degree in mathematics from Saint Petersburg University in Russia. Elena’s many years of experience in industry span mathematical risk modeling, statistical analysis, and development of financial analytical software. Elena is a co-founder of the Berkeley Math Circle Elementary Level (for grades 1-4) and has been teaching there since its inception in 2009. She is also a co-founder of the Stanford Math Circle Elementary Level at Stanford University, launched in 2011. Elena is thrilled to have the opportunity to bring her experience and passion to the Math Taught the Right Way Program (MTRW) at UC Berkeley.

What is her comment?

When I taught a problem-solving class at MTRW in 2018, I was once again reminded of how fragmented and incomplete mathematics curriculum is in a typical American middle school.
Even motivated and bright students do not have adequate mathematical language; they lose confidence when trying to solve a problem that is not given in a familiar format; they find themselves at a loss when presented with an atypical word problem, even when they have all the knowledge to solve it.I grew up in the former Soviet Union. As a child, I remember the thrill of getting a new mathбtextbook at the beginning of each school year and looking through it in anticipation of learning new and exciting mathematics.

Every Sunday morning during my school years I took a bus across town to attend a math circle class. When my three children were growing up in the U.S., I wanted them to discover the beauty of mathematics. In their elementary school years, I supplemented their standard school curriculum with the Singapore Math textbooks available in the U.S., with several editions of Russian math textbooks, and with the Math Circle Elementary material.

Like learning a new language, becoming proficient in math takes time and practice. The earlier one starts, the easier it is and the greater proficiency one achieves. In a typical Eastern European mathematics program, middle school children are taught different areas ofmathematics, starting in 6 th grade and continuing through middle and high school. Such an approach supports giving children a solid mathematical foundation.
My children attended different public and private middle schools in the U.S. None of their math textbooks covered math subjects broadly and geometry was often absent from middle school math. I wish the Bulgarian middle school textbooks had been available at the time. This program covers many areas of mathematics continuously over the course of 3 years, including algebra, geometry, logic, reasoning, statistics, and problem solving. There is no one-year “crash” course in geometry or any other math discipline. The Program supports math knowledge acquisition and retention at a steady pace throughout all middle school years.
The exercises in textbooks are split into several levels to help with differentiation. Math contest problems, interspersed throughout the book, can be assigned to advanced students.

Supplemental materials, offered as independent work, can add a “math circle” element and challenge even the most advanced students. The Bulgarian program teaches children not just to look for the right formulas to plug in the numbers, or for the right template or a recipe to use; it helps teach students how to approach and solve a problem as a mathematician: “Let’s pause to understand the problem, let‘s take a piece of paper and a pencil, and let’s think” I am excited to finally have an excellent middle school math program, and I love teaching it.