Help Wanted: Math on a Stick


The updated post about Math On-A-Stick is here.

Here is the link to our volunteer site (thanks in advance!)

Here is the Math On-A-Stick page on the Minnesota State Fair website.


I want to tell you about a vision of a beautiful thing, and I want to ask you to help make it happen.

Math on a Stick logo by Emily Bremner Forbes, who makes beautiful things. Many thanks, Emily!

Math on a Stick will be an annual event at the Minnesota State Fair (12 days of fun ending Labor Day!) that engages young children (4—10 years old) and their caregivers in informal mathematics activity and conversation using the Fair as a context.

  • Parents will push children on a protractor swing so that together they can notice the angles and fractions of a circle the children travel through.
  • Parents and children will use beautiful tiles to make shapes and intriguing patterns.
  • They will comb the fairgrounds looking for groups of many different sizes, asking questions such How many mini donuts are in a bag?, How many sides does the Agriculture-Horticulture building have? and Why is it so hard to find a group of 17?
  • They will notice the rotational and reflection symmetry in a wide variety of plants and flowers, then copy these symmetries by making a paper flower to take home.

Math on a Stick has four components:

  1. The Math-y Midway
  2. The Garden of Symmetry
  3. The Number Game
  4. Visiting mathematicians and mathematical artists.

Find out more about each of these below.

The major question now is whether Math on a Stick happens for the first time this year or next. The organizing body is the Minnesota Council of Teachers of MathematicsThe Math Forum is by our side. Max Ray and Annie Fetter from the Math Forum plan to come to Minnesota to help run the event. The Minnesota State Fair and Minnesota State Fair Foundation love the idea. We just need to convince all parties that it is possible to pull this off in the coming three months, and we need to locate the funding to make it happen.

Your Call to Action

We’ll need help with three things:

  1. Volunteer hours this summer, before the Fair
  2. Volunteer hours during the Fair
  3. Funding

Of course I expect that most who heed this call will hail from the great state of Minnesota, but I encourage others to consider scheduling a visit. This will be a wonderful event, and the Minnesota State Fair is truly a grand spectacle.


Before the Fair, we’ll need help finding and creating the things that will make the event go.

During the Fair, we’ll need help staffing the event. It runs 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. August 27—Sept. 7. We’ll have have about four shifts a day and we’ll require multiple people staffing each shift.

If we get Math on a Stick up and running this summer, one of our first orders of business will be to establish our volunteer website. Please check your summer calendars, pencil us in, and keep an eye on this blog for more information.


If you (or someone you know, or an organization you are involved with) are in a position to help fund Math on a Stick, get in touch with the Minnesota State Fair Foundation to let them know you’d like to help make this happen. Our overall budget is on the order of $20,000.

The specifics

Here are specifics on the four components of Math on a Stick.

The Number Game

The major activity at Math on a Stick is The Number Game. Adapted for math from the Alphabet Forest’s Word Game, children and parents are challenged to find groups of every size 1—20 at the fair. Examples: A corn dog has 1 stick, a cow has 4 legs, the Ferris Wheel has 20 carts.

Players receive a form they carry with them around the fair to record their findings, and can return with a completed form to claim a ribbon. Additionally, players can email, tweet, and post to Instagram, their Number Game fair photos. These are curated by Math on a Stick volunteers and posted to a public display that resets each day so that collectively State Fair attendees recreate daily a new visual answer guide to the Number Game.

The Math-y Midway

A protractor swingset, tables with fun tessellating tiles, and images from Which One Doesn’t Belong? and a (forthcoming) counting book to play with and discuss.

The Garden of Symmetry

Flowers are grown in planters along a path. As you walk from one end of the path to the other, you pass flowers with increasingly complex symmetry. Grasses (with one line of symmetry) are near one end. Irises are a bit further along (with three rotational symmetries), and sunflowers are near the far end (with MANY symmetries). Visitors to the Garden of Symmetry are invited to carry a tool consisting of two small mirrors taped together to investigate symmetries in the garden and the interpretive signage.

Visiting mathematicians and mathematical artists

An activity area is set aside for a daily visit from a mathematician or mathematical artist. Each provides engaging, hands-on math activities during a scheduled period each day. We will draw upon talent from Minnesota, as well as nationally (budget allowing).

For full details on the event, have a look at our Math on a Stick white paper.

Hit me in the comments with any questions you have.

Get in touch with me through the About/Contact page on this blog.

Please help us build this thing. It’s going to be great!

15 thoughts on “Help Wanted: Math on a Stick

  1. If you’re looking for visiting mathematicians and attractions, this is a group that’s run out of the University of Arizona math/science department: They’ve also got a math-based version of this called the ‘Traveling Mathematics Roadshow’ but it’s harder to find info on it except for this: You might be able to recruit them to visit you at the state fair, if you’re interested.

  2. Hi Christopher! This is such a fantastic idea!!! I am in for volunteering! Will watch the blog for when to sign up. I would love to see this at the Iowa State Fair! I’ll spread the word and see if I can get some fellow math lovers to come with me.

  3. I was excited to see the title, “Math On A Stick.” Imagine my disappointment to discover there are no slide rules involved.

  4. Angie, I’ll put you on my list of interested parties! This will be so much fun. I’m excited to know you’ll do what you can to help out!

    Gordon…Ha! I hope you’ll get past your disappointment with the missing slide rules and get on board!

  5. I’m in for taking a shift, although Minneapolis Public Schools teachers report back on the 15th of August. I’m sure I’ll figure something out; this opportunity is too awesome to pass up!!!

  6. I will surely give it a thought as we have an entertainment science center and my city seems so to be open to such activities. However, it requires a cooperation of couple of people.

  7. Have you tried crowd sourcing? Kickstarter might have too wide an audience, but Kickstarter or another such venue might make sense

    • Kathi, we seem to have made it through all barriers and are in full-steam-ahead mode! I’ll post more details sometime soon. To answer your question directly—I did in fact consider something like Kickstarter at one point in this process, but came to understand that organizational capacity was much more important to the Fair than new funding. The Minnesota Council of Teachers of Mathematics provided the organizational capacity and now we are off and running. Very exciting!

  8. Have you considered approaching the National Museum of Mathematics ( in NYC for advice/assistance? They have a travelling “Math Midway” (

  9. I am interested in helping out both before and during the fair. It sounds like fun and good experience.

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