Problem-based math circles challenge kids to think for themselves, and are being touted as a way to level the playing field for girls and minorities. Rozhkovskaya’s group, for example, invites guests to discuss how knowing math empowers you to “do incredible things in your life.” Students from the poverty-stricken Navajo Nation agree. Many of the kids who didn’t consider themselves “smart” before joining the local Math Circle have a newfound confidence in their intelligence, thanks to a problem-based approach that challenges them to find their own answers.

While math circles have been making the rounds in Eastern Europe for over a century, they only reached U.S. shores about 20 years ago, Scientific American reports. They’ve expanded quickly; there are currently about 200 chapters nationwide. The gatherings bring like-minded kids who love math together outside of school, where the peer environment may be less than encouraging. The groups usually target middle and high-school students.

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