Julia Robinson Mathematics Festival

The Julia Robinson Mathematics Festival is my number one recommendation for a community to help engage young people – especially young women – in mathematics. It does this by highlighting co-operative problem solving. Each table is set up with one set of related problems. A mathematician or mathematical educator is the facilitator at each table. They are encouraged to be as unhelpful as possible! This is brilliant advice. It builds tenacity and resilience when the going gets tough.

If you’re going through hell, keep going.

Winston Churchill

1874 - 1965

Joshua Zucker

Joshua Zucker

Joshua is the Director of the Julia Robinson Mathematics Festival.  Many of the table activities are designed by him, and they are magnificently crafted hierarchical explorations that encourage students of different ability to jump right in.

Julia Robinson

Julia Robinson


The first woman president of the American Mathematical Society, Julia was instrumental in proving Hilbert’s tenth problem unsolvable.

It was the decision of Nancy Blachman to name the festival in Julia Robinson’s honour – an inspired decision that aids those needing to confront negative stereo types about women and mathematics.

What excited me so much about this festival when I first encountered it in 2014 was the fraction of girls who attended. The stereotypical attendee at most math competitions are competitive boys. This festival stresses co-operative problem solving and rewards children for tenacity – not for results.  It works so, so well – and works cross-culturally…

In the first Julia Robinson Mathematics Festival held outside North America (Beijing, China, May 30th, 2015) – I was amazed at just how similar the festival worked. This was true despite the fact that the school experience of mathematics seemed quite different to me.

MathPickle helped put on the first Julia Robinson Math Festival in Canada on March 1st, 2015. The poster to this event is on the right. The quality of the people manning the tables is absolutely critical. In Calgary we had an abundance of top educators from throughout North America. Click on the image below to get a blurb on each of them – including my mentor, Richard Guy, aged 98, who asked to lead a table.

The facilitators are attracted to the event partially because the problems are staggered in difficulty… all starting at an elementary school level and working up to extremely difficult puzzles that will even give mathematicians pause.

What I was most happy with was the warm support offered by the Calgary Board of Education. Their write-up is here.

Please use MathPickle in your classrooms. If you have improvements to make, please contact me. I'll give you credit and kudos 😉 For a free poster of MathPickle's ideas on elementary math education go here.

Gordon Hamilton

(MMath, PhD)