Running Girls’ Angle, like most nonprofits, is a ton of work. There’s a club to run, outreach activities such as SUMIT to create, organize, and operate, and there’s fundraising and all the other aspects of maintaining a nonprofit.
So why, on top of that, do we produce a math magazine?
The answer is that the Bulletin is a critical component of Girls’ Angle’s math educational strategy for multiple reasons. I’d like to detail one of the more important of these reasons: to provide more venues to showcase student achievement in mathematics.
Today, the math competition dominates extracurricular math, so much so that many consider winning a math competition to be the only way to show high achievement in math. Some go further and think that without stellar contest performance, they have no future in math. This is unfortunate because math competitions are an imperfect measure of mathematical ability. Just to list a few causes of this imperfection, math competitions
- place too much weight on computational accuracy and speed
- are generally confined to a limited bit of mathematical knowledge
- feature canned problems designed to be solvable within certain time constraints
- favor the ability to apply results over understanding them
- do not test for the ability to come up with good questions
Mathematics is about unraveling the mysteries of the unsolved. And it doesn’t matter how long it takes to do that. In fact, if you’re conditioned to always look for a quick, nifty solution, you’re likely to become frustrated with serious mathematical research.
If contests are the only venue to showcase mathematical ability, many mathematical talents will be forever hidden. Math educators must furnish alternative ways for students to show their mathematical achievement.
Enter the Girls’ Angle Bulletin. Students who have explored and come to a good understanding of some piece of mathematics can write up their observations and publish them in the Bulletin.
Perhaps you question the need for such a magazine since there are many math journals out there already. But the vast majority of those math journals are for professional mathematicians, and it is not reasonable to expect K12 students to produce mathematics of sufficient interest to professional mathematicians to warrant publication in those journals. It does happen, but it is rarer than qualifying for the USAMO.
Note that this absolutely does not mean that the Bulletin will only contain expository material. K12 students are fully capable of discovering new mathematics. What we can’t expect is that the math that a K12 student discovers will be something that a professional mathematician would find sufficiently interesting to justify publication in a professional math journal. (Though, as mentioned, it can happen, and I think there are some things like that already in the Bulletin.)
Academics have also recognized this problem in the founding of the journal Involve, which is about “bridging the gap between the extremes of purely undergraduate-research journals and mainstream research journals,” and “provides a venue to mathematicians wishing to encourage the creative involvement of students.” Though one difference between Involve and the Girls’ Angle Bulletin is that Involve involves undergrads whereas the Bulletin targets K12. (Note: MIT math professor Bjorn Poonen is both on the editorial board of Involve and the advisory board of Girls’ Angle.)
There are already several examples of student written articles in the Bulletin. Just to cite one, Milena Harned and Miriam Rittenberg wrote up their discoveries about equilateral hexagons inscribed in triangles. (See page 12 of Volume 11, Number 2.) To the best of our knowledge, their results are new. They showed that there’s a one-parameter family of equilateral hexagons inscribed in any triangle with the property that each of the three sides of the triangle are flush with at least one of the sides of the equilateral hexagon. For a professional mathematician, this result may be amusing to learn, but doesn’t shed light on the deep conundrums that keep mathematicians up at night. On the other hand, it’s definitely something that demonstrates above average mathematical creativity and ability, especially when you bear in mind that Milena and Miriam not only proved the result, but discovered it as well. (That is, they were not handed a conjecture and asked to prove it. They had to create the conjecture too.)
So, K12 students! If you discovered or did something nifty in mathematics, consider writing it up and submitting for publication in the Bulletin. We’d love to hear from you!