What is SDMC? Is it like the math club at school? It's an understandable comparison to make, and there are similarities, but there are important differences. SDMC has a strategic mission of reaching the most able and highest achieving mathematics students in the greater San Diego area, and to provide them with instruction and challenges that develop their problem-solving skills. In many cases, SDMC students have few intellectual peers in their traditional schools; for these students SDMC provides an intellectual peer group unlike anything in their school experience.
Why do we have to register? There are many reasons, but prominent among them are communications and logistics. SDMC makes strong use of electronic communications, so we need to know how to communicate with you. SDMC involves hundreds of individuals who participate in different ways; planning for such a large and diverse group would be unmanageable without registration. It is also the case that we have capacity limitations related to space; we can accommodate only so many students in our classrooms, and online facilities have limited capacities.
Why do we have to complete the liability waiver? Much of SDMC's activity takes place on the campus of UCSD. The waiver serves a legal need the university to limit its liability related to our presence on campus. SDMC has parallel needs, so we combine both UCSD's and SDMC's legal needs in one shared waiver form.
What is the age range of students who may participate in SDMC? Students must be in one of the grades 5 through 12 as enrolled in school.
My 4th grade student is in accelerated math. Why is he/she not accepted into SDMC? Our age cutoff at grade 5 has less to do with math ability than with other factors such as maturity, social mix, class size, and classroom order.
Does SDMC have any program for those younger children? No and yes. No, as explained above, we are not able to accommodate younger children into our regular on-site activities at UCSD. However, we do attempt to provide access to occasional special events that may be appropriate for younger children. These include the AMC 8 and Math Kangaroo. On a case-by-case basis, our Computer Science track may accept fourth grade students.
My student is in 11th/12th grade; is it too late for him/her to join SDMC? Students may join SDMC at any grade level; we find, however, that most of our active juniors and seniors are students who have participated regularly for a number of years and have grown significantly in ability and competitiveness because of it. Consequently, SDMC's activities serving the needs of these students tend to be considerably more challenging than what similarly-aged students normally experience in school. It is common for students joining SDMC for the first time as a junior or senior find this differential quite daunting.
Is there an admissions or qualifying exam? No. Apart from the minimum age/grade level requirement, we have no quantitative admissions criteria. We use a flexible form-based application through which we try to learn as much as we can about prospective students and take a broad view. Quantitative math information is very helpful, but we do not use any specific qualifying test.
My student can't come to math circle every weekend. Can he/she still attend? Yes - math circle students are involved in numerous positive activities and some conflicts are inevitable. There are certain fixed events you should try to plan around, but for the most part occasional absences are not a problem - we do not require advance permission or notice - you be you. Our main concern is that all admitted members participate "substantially". All elements of our programs have limited capacity, meaning that we have to say "no" to some students every year in order to make space for you or your student. What we do NOT want to have happen is that we commit space in our programs to a student who then does not value that commitment, effectively blocking another student who would value it more.
How much does SDMC cost? Is there a fee? There is no fee charged to participate in SDMC; however, SDMC is wholly dependent on voluntary donations to support our programs. Please visit our donations area to learn more and contribute.
Which ability group is the right one? SDMC is all about challenge. All of our ability groups are above grade level considered relative to normal school experience. We ask students to begin their math circle experience in the group corresponding to their nominal age and grade level. (This group will be above grade level.) For most students, this is the best way to get socially engaged and grow accustomed to the way math circle "works". If time, experience, and results show that some adjustment is merited, this can be considered on a case-by-case basis.
Who teaches at SDMC? SDMC does not have a "faculty" per se. Our instructors include mathematicians, scientists, engineers, and IT professionals. Some are professors, some are parents with appropriate expertise, some are recruited and some volunteer. Some are undergraduate or graduate students, and in some circumstances, select SDMC students are called upon to take some of the responsibilities of leadership themselves. Visit our Instructor page for more information.
Why math competitions? Math competitions tend to be very misunderstood. Scholastic exams tend to assess skill development - the quiz at the end of a week tends to asses the skills taught that week. Even the SATs assess primarily a basket of skills available to students by about grade 10. Math competitions tend to be quite different - math competitions tend to ASSUME that participants have strong skills in school subjects, and rather than assessing skills, present students with problems that challenge their reasoning abilities. This is what math circles are about fundamentally, so it is significant to understand that math competitions are aligned with the teaching objectives of math circles, and provide informative assessments of "how students are doing" as they progress.
No SDMC student is required to participate in competitions. We find, however, that many SDMC students enjoy the personal challenge and the spirit of competition with their peers, both locally and beyond San Diego. There is a synergy between the competitions available to students and the activities that take place within SDMC; the competitions motivate students to sharpen their problem-solving abilities and provide independent validation of their efforts.
What are competition scores used for? High scores can qualify students for awards or to advance to higher levels of national competition. High scores on certain competitions can be factors in college admissions. Within SDMC, we offer awards for our internal competitions, and we take competition scores into consideration for certain invitation-only activities limited to our most highly-qualified students. Aside from awards and distinctions, competition scores provide us meaningful information that helps us monitor how our students are progressing.
What does it mean that SDMC is a "Higher Education Site" for the AMC? The term "Higher Education Site" is used by the American Mathematics Competitions to designate a limited number of sites, usually at colleges or universities, where the AMC competitions can be administered as a last option for students who do not otherwise have an opportunity to participate.
Why is there no calculus at SDMC? It may seem paradoxical at first that SDMC would teach advanced mathematics to advanced students, yet generally avoid calculus. One practical reason is that the mix of students in our ability groups is such that we cannot presume a universal knowledge of calculus. A more strategic reason, however, is that SDMC is neutral with respect to acceleration; i.e., we do not "school" students in "school" subjects in order to facilitate acceleration in school. It would be very much a mistake, however, to think that this means that there is a ceiling limiting math circle students' advancement in math - rather, we leverage students' school learning to teach concepts beyond those taught in schools, even in calculus.
What's wrong with acceleration? Perhaps nothing - this is a bigger question than can be answered briefly or out of a personal context - but it has the potential to become problematic. Structurally, most schools lack a capacity or administrative ability to accomodate more than an incremental degree of acceleration,. In practical terms, there can be difficulties arising from scheduling, logistics, credits and transcripts, social integration, maturity, time management, and stress. SDMC offers an alternative to acceleration by building upon the base of precalculus mathematics taught in school to develop challenging and interesting topics outside of the traditional high school curriculum. Such topics, in essence, espose younger students to "college level" explorations .
I've heard that SDMC also is involved with physics. Why? The most practical answer is that our students asked for it. Many SDMC students are not only some of the best mathematics students around, they are also some of the best science students. Physics is the science most closely allied to mathematics and depends greatly on mathematics, including calculus, for sound understanding.
I thought SDMC didn't teach calculus. Why is calculus stressed in SDMC's physics activities? Isn't this inconsistent? Actually, it is completely consistent. The heart of the math circle approach is about cultivating sound reasoning and promoting problem solving abilities. This can be done very effectively in mathematics without creating acceleration problems by advancing students into calculus. On the other hand, mathematics - and most importantly calculus - is the language of physics; it is not possible to cultivate sound reasoning in physics without at least a basic understanding of calculus, and it is not possible to deal with anything but the most basic problem solving in physics without at least a basic functional foundation in calculus.