Math Tea

My school has a longstanding tradition of a weekly math tea. And unlike other places I’ve been, where this time is a social hour before a seminar, at Hood it’s a time to play games, solve puzzles, or do some interesting math with students and faculty. When we divvied up departmental duties at the beginning of the year, I ended up as Math Tea co-czar (that’s the official title), and it’s ended up being one of the most fun parts of my week.

Each week, we choose some kind of activity. We’ve built up a pretty impressive of activities and games over the years, many of which are detailed on by our own Betty Mayfield on the MAA’s “Math Club in a Box” site.

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Our annual math pumpkin carving day. Carving done by student Justin, pumpkin gutting done by the author.

We have a shelf of games and puzzles, some of a mathematical bent like Set or Rush Hour, but some are just fun card games. We’ve also cribbed a few activities from the book Solve This: Math Activities for Students and Clubs, like one on cutting modified Möbius strips, and another on doing math on the surface of a donut (with the real thing for a snack, and a papercraft model for experimenting).

Bewildered by cutting weird Möbius-like constructions

Bewildered by cutting weird Möbius-like constructions

My favorite activities just explore whatever interesting topic I’ve found on the internet recently. Last week I’d seen Buffon’s Needle flying around, so we gave it a shot.

A small-scale test

A small-scale test

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Scaling up










The week before, we experimented with drawing 3.5-gons.

Our department chair's 3.5-gon.

Our department chair’s 3.5-gon.

And a while before that, we tried to figure out why coin flip probabilities are so frustratingly counterintuitive. I’m not sure we really resolved that one to everyone’s satisfaction, but it was fun to collect data.

The best part about our math tea is that the whole department comes, and we take care not to dominate the discussion. I think it’s incredibly helpful for students to see how professors approach difficult problems, particularly that we rarely know how to solve things immediately.

This takes very little time to put together, and it’s a valued part of our week. Since we do it in a public area of our building, I think it also gives our department visibility and makes us look fun, which probably helps attract new math majors. If you’d like to help develop a stronger sense of community with your department and your majors, I recommend starting a math tea.


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3 Responses to Math Tea

  1. Allen Knutson says:

    Some game recs for math types: Swish, No Thanks!, Hey That’s My Fish!, Bunny Bunny Moose Moose, Hanabi (pronounced Hana-Bi), Blokus.

  2. Carl says:

    Oh, this is fantastic!

    We at University of California Santa Cruz just started our math club a couple of years ago. As a freshman it was really frustrating that we didn’t have this kind of community building in our department, so we made one ourselves. Great to see such similar things going on elsewhere. I hope your club continues to grow and be successful!

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