Math Camp for Teachers

UNC Professor Katie Morrison, standing, helps middle school math teachers visualize a solution to a math problem. Related: Slide show at end of story.

All photos courtesy of Dan Rosplock

Middle school math teachers gathered in Estes Park last month not to summit Longs Peak, visit Rocky Mountain National Park, or traverse the Continental Divide on the country's highest continuous paved road like many visitors do each summer, but to reach new heights in math via a UNC initiative.

The Northern Colorado Math Teachers' Circle hosted by the University of Northern Colorado's Mathematical Sciences department is a four-day opportunity for middle school math teachers from around the state to enhance their problem-solving skills, deepen their understanding of mathematics and discuss how to apply their improved skills in their classrooms of 11- to 15-year-olds.

The UNC circle is part of the national Math Teachers' Circle program, developed at the American Institute of Mathematics.

"This is a math program about problem solving," said UNC Professor Gulden Karakok. "It's about learning how to use existing knowledge in math problems, rather than lecturing about theory and then completing a worksheet."

The circle also builds a community of teachers to discuss math problems and provides a valuable resource for all area math teachers, Karakok said.

Twenty-one teachers from school districts around Colorado attended this year's program, which was led and organized by Karakok and UNC professors Cathleen Craviotto and Katie Morrison, along with UNC alumna and Greeley middle school teacher Delia Haefeli and Greeley school district teachers Bonnie Funk and Julie Samsel. Some of the attendees were UNC alumni who valued their UNC experience and knew their teaching would benefit from this program.

"Today, students need to know that they can be successful. That doesn't always mean getting A's. It means learning from their mistakes, learning from their peers, not giving up if they do not get the answer, or, if they do get the right answer, to delve deeper into the problem and go beyond," said participant Myranda Kroll, who teaches seventh- and eighth-grade students at Pleasant View Middle School in Pueblo, Colo.

"Math Teachers' Circle gives me the opportunity to teach them how to solve comprehensive problems so they can persevere and go beyond the basics," Kroll said.

Although the summer institute is invigorating and motivating for the teachers who participate, it's their students who'll benefit. The circle has the potential to reach 1,500 to 2,500 middle school students each year.

In addition to the four-day institute, the Math Teachers' Circle includes six problem-solving sessions throughout the year on the UNC campus. Sponsors cover all expenses for the institute and the problem-solving sessions so any teacher can attend.

"My students will benefit by having more in-depth math problems to solve and a teacher that will understand the varied ways students may work these problems," Kroll said. "There were a lot of different ideas about games and group activities that I'll also bring to my classroom."

- Amy Dressel-Martin

For more information about UNC's Math Teachers' Circle, visit

For more information about the national Math Teachers' Circle Network, visit

State Farm Insurance Co. was this year's lead sponsor of UNC's Math Teachers' Circle, with additional support provided by BBVA Compass Foundation, the UNC Center for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning, the American Institute of Mathematics and the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute.

Sample Teachers' Math Circle Problem
A census-taker knocks on a door, and asks the woman inside how many children she has and how old they are.

"I have three daughters, their ages are whole numbers, and the product of the ages is 36," says the mother.

"That's not enough information," responds the census-taker.

"I'd tell you the sum of their ages, but you'd still be stumped."

"I wish you'd tell me something more."

"Okay, my oldest daughter Annie likes dogs."

What are the ages of the three daughters?

Answer: Their ages are 2, 2 and 9. Reason: 6, 6 and 1 also has a sum of 13, but only the first triple has a unique oldest child.