South Charlotte

They have a passion for doing the math

It's a scene that might be enough to make parents and teachers everywhere shed tears of joy.

Students from local public, private, parochial and home schools are gathered at Providence Day School on a Saturday morning to do math.

They're there because they like math.

The students are members of Charlotte Math Club, for grades seven through 12, and the south county chapter of Mecklenburg Math Club, for grades four through six, both led by adult moderators.

CMC was founded in 1987 by Dr. Harold Reiter, 69, a UNC Charlotte professor who also started MMC several years later.

CMC and MMC-South aren't affiliated with Providence Day or any other school, but monthly meetings - held September to May - average 60-70 students.

Charlotte Math Club students are separated into "junior" and "senior" tracks. The junior track usually consists of students in pre-algebra or algebra I, and sometimes geometry. The senior track consists of geometry, algebra II, pre-calculus and calculus students.

CMC students do problems individually and collectively, hear presentations on advanced topics and travel to math and science competitions.

MMC students solve problems, do math activities and participate in the Mathematical Olympiads for Elementary Schools.

Club groupings aren't rigid; students select the best fit for them.

CMC members work problems outside the school curriculum. "If we did the same things that math classes in schools were doing, we wouldn't be offering something of value - an additional value," said James Davis, 28, a software engineer assisting CMC's senior track.

Reiter says CMC alumni have attended universities including Duke, Harvard, Princeton and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Some now teach math or computer science at various colleges and universities.

"They shot very high," Reiter said.

Reiter and his daughter, Ashley Ahlin, hold doctoral degrees in math. His wife, Betty, has a doctorate in math education.

"My students often pass me up, and our daughter clearly passed us up while she was in high school," said Reiter. "She started doing some work that we could follow, with some concentration, but by the time she got to graduate school there was no hope of keeping up with her."

Reiter said he loves math's creativity.

"There's a tension that you begin to feel when you're confronted with a problem that you just don't know how to start. And we don't give our students enough opportunities to feel that tension before college.

"When they get to college, they all get it. There's no doubt they get that tension. But if they don't get it before college, then they react to it very badly in college," he said.

Reiter said he hopes to "encourage teachers to give their students an opportunity to feel that tension."

The next CMC and MMC-South meetings will be 9:30 a.m. Feb. 11 at Providence Day.