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Circle in a Box

Sam Vandervelde
Mathematical Sciences Research Institute/American Mathematical Society
Publication Date: 
Number of Pages: 
MSRI Mathematical Circles Library
[Reviewed by
Mihaela Poplicher
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“Circle in a Box” was the name of a project initiated by the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute (MSRI) with the goal to assemble a resource for individuals who were interested in launching a math circle at their institution. This project came to fruition, and the result is the book we now consider.

The concept of a “math circle” was modeled after experiences in Russia, Bulgaria, Romania, and other countries. It is a way to stimulate, encourage and help gifted and interested pre-college students to study and solve mathematics problems, sometime with the involvement of mathematicians and/or mathematics faculty from universities. Such programs existed in the US before 2005 (when this project was started) in places like San Francisco, Boston, and a few others.

This book was written after all these experiences were studied and the MSRI project was put in place. Its goal is to serve as a “handbook” for those interested in starting a math circle. There are two main parts of the book: the first is about putting together and organizing a math circle, and the second contains a few presentations that can be used as activities in a math circle. The organizational part has sections about “setting the schedule,” “getting the word out,” “finding funding,” “retaining students,” and “paperwork,” to mention just a few. The second part contains ten “presentations” of topics of different degrees of difficulty, containing also problems (some with hints and answers).

There is also a third part of the book, called “appendices,” containing samples: “sample grant proposal,” “sample grant report,” etc. All of these are very valuable for somebody interested in starting and running a math circle.

In summary, this is an excellent resource for those interested in math circles, including students and parents (they can just skip the organizational part and go directly to the presentations and problems). For those interested in starting and running a math circle, I think it is an invaluable resource. Additional information and updates on this book are posted at the AMS web site.

Mihaela Poplicher is an associate professor of mathematics at the University of Cincinnati. Her research interests include functional analysis, harmonic analysis, and complex analysis. She is also interested in the teaching of mathematics. Her email address is