A Maths Circle is a simple concept – bring together a small group of pupils and a mentor on a regular basis to work through a carefully sequenced curriculum of exciting maths tasks. This mathematically stimulating environment encourages everyone to think like a mathematician and to work together. Maths Circles are small – no more than 6 pupils per mentor, leading to a close sense of collaboration and increasing the chance that every single pupil is highly involved. Maths Circles are an out of class maths club which doesn’t accelerate pupils through the curriculum but instead uses material which deepens and enriches the mathematics they already know.

In most cases the mentor will be a teacher, whereas in some schools it could be a university maths student or other mathematically interested volunteer (with relevant qualifications and experience). Maths Circles have a long history of running in other countries, but now they are being launched in the UK by the charity MESME (Mathematics Education for Social Mobility and Excellence).

MESME has been created to support students from all backgrounds to achieve mathematical excellence, so that they go on to have a greater and richer range of future personal, employment and economic choices.

The mission of MESME is to improve social mobility, and 30% of pupils who attend a Maths Circle should ideally be eligible for Pupil Premium funding. Maths Circles are perfect for pupils who are enthusiastic about mathematics and are high attainers: “in the top 10%” is a benchmark, but teachers have the expertise to know which pupils will benefit most from a Maths Circle. Currently Maths Circles are for Year 7-9 pupils, although this will expand in the future.

All the resources are provided ‘ready to use’ and for free. The tasks are produced by a team of experts. The Lead Curriculum Writer is Michael Davies, STEP Chief Examiner and former Head of Maths at Westminster School. The tasks are provided in the form of PowerPoints, meaning that you don’t need to prepare any of the materials yourself.;

Mentors agree to run 10 Maths Circle sessions in a term, and they are very well supported by a programme of training and feedback. Each mentor spends 30 minutes watching guidance videos before they run each Maths Circle. This means that you will be supported in knowing how to lead the discussion, how to approach a particular task and how to draw out the most mathematically rich aspects of each task. You will never feel left in the dark! Each mentor also agrees to spend 15 minutes reflecting on each session and providing feedback, ensuring that Maths Circles remain closely tailored to the needs of the pupils.

There has been some really good feedback so far. In the first Maths Circles pilot (with around 600 pupils) almost 95% of pupils agreed that Maths Circles are fun and that the content was at the right level. The mentors themselves gave the programme an average of 9.02 out of 10. With this fantastic feedback it is not surprising that the Maths Circles programme is continuing and expanding beyond the initial pilots.

The next point at which to join the Programme is January 2023, with enrolment starting in September 2022. If you are interested in taking part in this programme, you can register your interest via the Maths Circles webpage.

Maths Circle tasks are designed to give many opportunities for productive dialogue between the student(s) and their mentor. The ‘difference that makes the difference’ about MESME Maths Circles is in the discussions between a mentor and the student(s), which are catalysed by each student’s responses to the tasks. For example:

*Only one of the integers between 468 and 486 is prime. Which is it? Convince me!*

leads to a rich discussion around

*We can say that the interval 468 to 486 is nearly ‘prime-free’. What’s the longest completely ‘prime-free’ interval in the positive integers less than 100?*

Why Maths Circles?

Maths Circles have some very clear aims – they want students from every background to have the chance to achieve ‘mathematical excellence’ so that they have the broadest range of fulfilling choices in life. This is an exciting vision and hopefully the model will help inspire and challenge many pupils to pursue mathematical sciences and achieve their career aspirations. Maths Circles are also a lot of fun for both pupils and mentors, and are great CPD for teachers in all stages of their careers.

The long-term goal of Maths Circles is bold:

“MESME’s target is that by 2035 there will be double the number of PhD students in the mathematical sciences at a UK university. We intend for this increase to include a representative proportion, at the minimum, of students from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds who went to school in the UK.”

On the surface it might not make any sense to spend one extra session a week with pupils who are already going to get a good grade at GCSE. But as teachers we want all our pupils to thrive and flourish, not just passing exams, and for the highest attaining students that means looking beyond getting a Grade 8 or 9. It means deepening their thinking, boosting their enjoyment of maths, and inspiring them to start believing they are mathematicians. The small group setting is designed to instil confidence in a safe environment where it is ok not to know the answer: Maths Circles are full of worthwhile productive struggle. If a pupil decides to study mathematical sciences at university, they will already be used to discussing mathematics with their peers.

If you do decide to run a Maths Circle, then please get in touch, it would be great to hear about your experiences and for you to share them with other Scholars and Alumni. As a fairly new project it would be brilliant to hear how you are getting on with Maths Circles.

MESME is a registered charity, no. 1199281.

This article was written in Summer 2022

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