# Girls Excel in Mathematics summer camp engages young math enthusiasts in learning, creativity, and FUN!

MINNEAPOLIS / ST. PAUL (07/30/2024) – Share bold ideas. Explore a variety of solutions. Respect your fellow campers. Get creative. Have FUN! These are the rules that the Girls Excel in Mathematics (GEM) students put together for themselves on the first day of summer camp. GEM, a summer enrichment program for girls in grades four through six, is hosted by the Mathematics Center for Educational Programs (MathCEP) each summer. During the three-day experience, this year’s students studied topics and activities like fair division, ancient counting systems, cryptography, map coloring, and kite construction and flying. The camp goal is not to accelerate students through standard curriculum, but instead engage with fun mathematics topics, and get students excited about math.

In an activity designed to blend creative thinking and collaboration, GEM campers explored fair division on the first day of this year’s GEM camp. Students were asked questions like “How do you divide a cookie fairly between two people? What about three people? How do you split up a pile of candy? Or a funny-shaped cake between a bigger group?” The girls then brainstormed their own ideas for accomplishing this task before learning about fair division concepts like the divider-chooser method and trying it out for themselves.

When you were a kid arguing about how to split the last donut with your sibling, did your mother ever say “One of you split it in half, and then the other gets to pick”? It turns out that mathematics was on mom’s side! The divider-chooser method ensures fairness by leveraging each participant's perception of value. The divider carefully splits the donut to ensure both parts seem equal, then the chooser selects the piece they prefer. This method almost always guarantees that both parties feel they receive at least half of the value, making it a widely accepted fair division strategy.

While exploring this topic in food-division worksheets, GEM campers came up with a variety of creative solutions and additions to this method. Giggles filled the room as they explained “I split it unevenly on purpose because I don’t really like cookies!” and “I gave her the half with more frosting because it’s her favorite!” or even “We had an extra piece leftover, and we would give it to a seagull!”

“The energy the campers have is amazing. That energy, combined with the curiosity that children have, made the camp a great opportunity for them to explore new mathematics and learn some incredible things,” said camp facilitator and Mathematics PhD student Marcella Manivel.

In another session, campers learned about Queen Dido’s problem. As the story goes, Queen Dido founded the grand city of Carthage by purchasing “an amount of land that can be enclosed by a bull’s hide.” The man selling Dido the land thought of this as a modest request, and agreed to the deal. Little did he know, Dido had a plan to acquire many acres from this deal. How could she do this?

Campers worked on tackling this problem by cutting up standard sheets of paper. Their goal was to create a loop out of the paper that they could step through, without the use of tape or glue. Students learned that, just like Dido, if one cuts the paper into a thin zig-zag pattern of strips, large loops can be created. In this activity, campers worked in small groups to test out their ideas. Eventually, the right method spread through the classroom like wildfire! By the end of their first day, students left camp with fun stories to tell, cool problems to share, and budding new connections with other campers.

“Personally, my favorite part was seeing the campers grow, form new friendships, and get more excited about math,” Manivel said. “We got to see how you can cut a hole out of a normal piece of paper that’s big enough to walk through, learned about different ways to encrypt messages, and more!”

Girls Excel in Mathematics was founded with the hope of encouraging girls who are excited about mathematics to make connections with others that feel the same. Women make significant contributions to the fields of mathematics and science every day. However, many girls are often dissuaded from pursuing STEM subjects during their school years. MathCEP created GEM to show their students that they are not alone in their passion for mathematics!