Early and Eager
Just as an early start in foreign language acquisition is frequently fruitful, or as musical precocity is readily encouraged, an early start in mathematics is beneficial for the child who shows passion and ability. Epsilon camp is for the extraordinary of such cases—children who not only are exceptionally or profoundly gifted but who also love mathematics.
These children should be able to experience the gleeful epiphany when understanding dawns on a mathematical concept, just as precocious early readers should access the delight of great literature and young athletes revel in a sporting victory. Cringing in silent boredom in an unfulfilling classroom setting can derail budding mathematical talent and quell promising interest in a field that, when properly approached, offers a lifetime of possibilities and satisfaction.
The School Predicament
Individual IQs in a school classroom range widely. Except in a few schools, the majority of students in a class will be average. The curriculum and pedagogy are therefore designed to serve this majority. In some school districts the gifted or the highly gifted are provided separate instruction. But what about the outliers?
Imagine a school with 1000 students, where only one child is so acutely gifted. It is impractical to tailor instruction to this single person, even if the teacher is knowledgeable. What should such a child do in class? Doodling, daydreaming, or helping to teach the rest provides no benefit to her or his intellectual needs. Working silently and independently in the back of the room lacks the energy of engagement.
Creating Learning Opportunities
These unique students need not only great challenges but also a different style of learning from their age peers. The need for greater challenge is often met by enrolling students in higher grade classes in a particular subject, a practice known as subject acceleration. Another common approach is to compact a course so that students can progress through the curriculum at a fast pace. Online advanced classes are available, which suit independent learners well. Math contests can be useful for engaging problem solving skills.
But all of these options may still not be enough for the type of young mathematician that Epsilon Camp targets. These children yearn to think deeper and over longer periods of time. While acceleration and contest training can be appropriate activities, enriching and stretching discussions such as those that take place in many math circles are an important piece.
The acute minds of the few mathematically profoundly gifted students in the nation deserve intervention and tailored instruction. Epsilon Camp serves this need in the summer for students who are at least 7 years old but not yet 12 years while at camp.
We endeavor to encourage blossoming early interest with suitable instruction. The formative experience Epsilon Camp provides is appropriate for a future mathematician, but also of great value for those who later choose another career path. We provide the setting for social and academic growth, where children can meet their intellectual peers who are of their age, and for strengthening a community network.
Renzulli, J.S., What Is This Thing Called Giftedness, and How Do We Develop It? A Twenty-Five Year Perspective, "Journal for the Education of the Gifted," Volume 23, Number 1 (1999).
Thomas, G.R., Why MathPath, www.mathpath.org.
Origins of the Epsilon Camp Logo
Mathematicians all over the world customarily use the lower-case Greek letter epsilon to represent an arbitrarily small positive quantity. From this custom, mathematician Paul Erdős (1913-1996) developed his habit of calling children “epsilons.” Named in his honor, Epsilon Camp is devoted to young children who love mathematics.
The Epsilon Camp logo is adapted from Lietzmann's spandrel with corona (1928), described in Mann, Casey. Heesch's Tiling Problem. American Mathematical Monthly (2004): 509-510.