When the world went into lockdown because of COVID-19, Sahiba Kaur of Midland, Michigan found herself with a lot more time on her hands than usual.

The then 12-year-old started participating virtually in the extracurriculars she already enjoyed — math club, programming, playing the violin, and the STEM program Chief Science Officers (CSO). When CSO began hosting virtual events, they invited Nancy Blachman, founder of the Julia Robinson Mathematics Festival, to speak.

Sahiba enjoyed hearing about play-based math, so she began attending JRMF webinars in 2020, and has been involved since. To date, Sahiba has hosted three virtual math festivals, worked as an outreach and activity intern, and volunteers as a facilitator for JRMF events.

JRMF has provided me with a lot of opportunities.

“My interest in math started early, but the math I do with JRMF is different than school math. School math is all about the common core curriculum,” Sahiba says. “The JRMF activities we do are about working together to solve problems and learn from each other. They make you think. They are more of a game than a problem, and they’re really interactive.”

Could they also help you earn a ribbon at a STEM fair?

“My favorite JRMF activity is Pool Testing. We played it at one of the virtual math festivals and everyone loved it. I actually used it as the data source for a STEM fair project last year,” Sahiba says. She received 3rd place.

Sahiba Kaur won 3rd place in her school’s STEM fair using data from a Julia Robinson Mathematics Festival app.

“I’m a pretty shy person, but with the JRMF virtual events, I have gotten comfortable engaging with people. It helps that everyone is so welcoming. JRMF has provided me with a lot of opportunities.”

Sahiba has also learned tips on how to better facilitate a math festival. A particular win, Sahiba says, is seeing less-enthusiastic classmates explore math and stick out the activities until the end of the session.

“If the student is working on a puzzle, you don’t want to give away the full answer. You want to give them strategic hints that foster problem solving.”

Sahiba is now a freshman at H.H. Dow High School, taking a computer science class and programming in her spare time. She thinks computer engineering would be a fun career after high school — but knows she still has years to decide. For now, she wants to implement a “Math Rocks!” committee with CSO to introduce more people to math festivals.

She also has her sights on developing and facilitating apps.

With who? JRMF of course.