From the N.Y. Times by Rachel Cromidas:
As camps go, the Summer Program in Mathematical Problem Solving might sound like a recipe for misery: six hours of head-scratching math instruction each day and nights in a college dorm far from home.

But Mattie Williams, 13, who attends Middle School 343 in the Bronx, was happy to attend, giving up summer barbecues with her parents and afternoons in the park with her Chihuahua, Pepsi. She and 16 other adolescents are spending three weeks at Bard College here in a free, new camp for low-income students gifted in mathematics.

All are entering eighth grade at New York City public middle schools where at least 75 percent of the student body is eligible for free lunches. And all love math. At this camp, asking “What kind of math do you like, algebra or geometry?” is considered an appropriate icebreaker, and invoking the newly learned term “the multiplication principle” elicits whoops and high-fives.

In a Bard classroom one afternoon, it seemed for a moment that Arturo Portnoy had stumped everyone. Dr. Portnoy, a math professor visiting from the University of Puerto Rico, posed this question: “The length of a rectangle is increased by 10 percent and the width is decreased by 10 percent. What percentage of the old area is the new area?”

The 17 campers whispered and scribbled. One crumpled his paper into a ball. Mattie Williams may have looked as if she was doodling as she drew dozens of tiny rectangles in her notebook, but she was hard at work on the problem, which was taken from the American Mathematics Competitions, a contest series known for its difficulty.

In less than 10 minutes, she had the answer — 99 percent — and was ready for the next question.

For some schoolchildren, mathematics is a competitive sport, and summer is the time for training — poring over test-prep books, taking practice exams and attending selective math camps. But for students who cannot afford such programs, or have not been exposed to many advanced math concepts, the avenues to new skills are limited.

Daniel Zaharopol, the director of the camp at Bard, is trying to change that. He has brought four math educators to the Bard campus to teach the middle school students concepts as varied as number theory and cryptography. Among the instructors is Dr. Portnoy, a director of the Puerto Rico Mathematical Olympiads.

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