The purpose of this page is to give an idea of the role of researchers for a Math.en.JEANS workshop and also to answer questions that could arise about choice of a topic and follow-up of the work.
For doctoral students
Being a researcher of a Math.en.JEANS workshop is possible by being a Phd student, it is even encouraged! In certain places, you may get some validation for your participation in a workshop and/or in the organization of a congress. If you need a certificate, contact the association: contact at mathenjeans.fr
What are the roles and involvement of a researcher for a MATh.en.JEANS topic?
How to choose and present a MATh.en.JEANS topic?
How to help students?
Participation in the congress
What are the roles and involvement of a researcher for a Mej subject?
The researcher comes with a topic that is a question to the young researchers. They think about it all over the year, meet the researcher again during "seminars" where they explain their progress and difficulties. In the spring the congress takes place and then comes the time of writing of an article detailing the results obtained.
For the researcher, the involvement consists in the preparation of one or more subjects, a presentation of the subjects at the beginning of the year, some meetings during the year (one can imagine a rhythm of 3 or 4 meetings in the year), participation in the congress and rereading of the article. Compared to teachers, the researcher’s involvement is much less (there is no weekly follow-up and no question of budget).
For the students, the researcher has a special role because it is probably the first time they meet a researcher. This is a somewhat exceptional aspect and it allows us to show them how exciting research is.
A secondary but important aspect is the university’s support to secondary education. Indeed, when a researcher follows a workshop, there is one or more teachers who feel supported! It is important since teachers do not always feel supported by parents or school heads.
How to choose and present a Math.en.JEANS topic?
How to choose a MATh.en.JEANS topic?
The first qualities of a topic are the simplicity of its statement, its attractiveness and its affordability. It is important that the subject requires as little knowledge as possible so that it can be understood and found interesting.
If the subject is part of a current research theme or if it is related to other sciences, it is a plus. Similarly, an opening to current problems that have not yet been answered is an advantage.
It is necessary to proscribe subjects of the type "all or nothing" that are based on a brilliant idea that it is unlikely to have alone. The risk of such a subject is to end up giving the solution to the students or that they end up without having obtained anything. Similarly, if there is a very high first step to be taken in order to be able to really start the problem, this could lead to a failure.
When we think about a subject, we can try to find a solution and verify that this solution is affordable with their level of knowledge. They can learn a notion or a theorem along the way but it’s not realistic to expect that they take a lot of mathematical maturity. Typically, the resolution should not require an abstract formalization if they have never done a literal calculation, it will not go. Similarly, their ability to do calculations will be limited.
It may be desirable to discuss the topics with the teachers in advance and to ask them for feedback. We can explain a possible solution to them but we must be careful that the temptation for teachers to guide students uniquely towards this particular solution be too strong.
A teacher can propose a theme, a topic to the researcher (without imposing them).
If the teacher tells you that a subject is too difficult for the students, it must be discussed with him and as far as possible lighten the subject, transform it, simplify it.
If the subject allows practical experiences or the use of a software like scratch c' is a big plus. However, research should not focus exclusively on the use of software..
We can imagine a subject with increasing difficulty so that it is rewarding to go through the different stages.
How to find ideas for topics?
You can find here topics already given in MeJ workshops. Past MeJ topics give a good idea of what a topic might be but it would be too bad if the same topics always come up.
See also the list of topics proposed by Vincent Brault (pdf, and LaTeX source version here).
To find new ideas, you can find help in websites or books of popularization of maths like Images des maths, the Gazette des mathématiciens, the American mathematical monthly, the books of Ian Stewart and others...
How to present/formulate a MATh.en.JEANS topic ?
The presentation of the topic is very important. It needs to tempt students to address the problem, and the problem needs to be clearly stated to be well understood. Do not hesitate to ask students to rephrase the problem with their words.
The formulation should not be the same as for an exercise. In particular, it must leave the strategy open and leave room for their own approach. You can eventually point them a strategy a little later if needed.
A workshop should not be too school-based. Even if it is done at school and with their teachers, it must remain fairly free and open.
We can include the problem in a story and/or give it a playful look. However, we must be careful not to let young people stagnate in some game.
Students are not supposed to search the internet to find the solution but it is very tempting, so avoid giving keywords that would immediately lead to the solution by searching the internet. If the question is a classic problem, we can choose a new name for the problem.
How to help students?
There will surely come a time when students will block on a difficulty and you may have a strong desire to help them so that they answer the question. This is a point that is not easy to manage for teachers and researchers. First of all, it is up to them to answer the question and it is also a frequent fact that a researcher does not reach a complete solution.
Of course, it’s frustrating and demotivating for them to be blocked on the problem. We can help them (without giving them an essential part of the solution!), by directing them towards particular cases, by asking them to reformulate some aspects…
If they get partial results, it is important to congratulate them by telling them that it is already a goal achieved, something they can be proud of.
Participation in the congress
The congress is two or three days long, and therefore more difficult to fit into an agenda than a seminar of an hour or more. However, it is important to participate as far as possible. For students, this shows the interest in their work and for teachers, it is a support. Researchers are also more likely to ask questions at the end of the presentations and it is important to have questions. If possible, these questions should not be too specific and should also be understood by the audience.
During the preparation of presentations for the congress or after the congress, students write an article to finalize their research. Articles of good quality (that is to say, in accordance with the Charte d'Édition) are published every year and can be found on this website.
It is important that the researcher review this article and make suggestions on what could be improved.