“What game are we playing today?”

That’s the question Tom Tsao received from a 7th grader last fall.

But Tom isn’t a gym teacher, nor a recess monitor. Tom is with the math club.

As a parent volunteer at the Science Academy STEM Magnet in Los Angeles, he sources activities for the kids to do after school and sees firsthand how puzzles and games bring math to life for the students.

“Even at a STEM school, there are kids who don’t want to do math. Math is boring to them, compared to the other subjects. So I am always telling students, ‘We’re not doing the math that you’re used to in classrooms. We’re playing games.’”

The kids’ brains are like kindling, tingling with possibilities. JRMF is supplying a match.

Tom knows firsthand what gamifying learning can do. His three kids, Drew, Dani and Joey, love playing puzzles at home with him and his wife, Eugenia. Tom himself grew up loving logic games and hopes to instill that interest in his kids — and the other children in his community.

A resource he has leaned on heavily has been the Julia Robinson Mathematics Festival.

“Your activities were a bright spot for us during COVID,” Tom says.

He learned about JRMF in 2019 and was planning to host a math festival before COVID-19 halted in-person activities.

When JRMF began sharing virtual activities for free, Tom first used them as supplemental learning for his kids before recommending them to the school. The two math teachers in charge of math club, Josh Rosenthal and Ben Parks, have been instrumental in the play-based learning that occurs, Tom says.

Popular JRMF activities to date have included Chomp, which covers combinatorial game theory, symmetry, and posets, and Nuggets for Sale, which studies number theory.

Two years in as a parent advisor, Tom is seeing an increased attendance in math club. He’s especially excited to see more girls attend, knowing that girls are still underrepresented in STEM fields.

“The Julia Robinson Mathematics Festival is helping to redefine math. It’s about logic. It’s about curiosity,” Tom says. “The kids are engaged and their brains are like kindling, tingling with possibilities. JRMF is supplying a match.”