The Joy of Thinking Foundation

Weekend Camps

The first weekend camp was held in 1988. Since then, the camps have been run in every year, without interruption. Initially there was no regular venue, the camps took place at various locations throughout the country. However, since a long time now, every camp is held in the building of the Tapolcsányi Boarding School.

The students

We try to group children according their age and limit each camp to a single age-group, though occasionally we allow kids of two adjacent classes to work together.

New camps are launched for each 7th grade class, and that is when most students enter become members. Some of the participants typically come from the two 6th grade cohorts of the MaMut camp that summer, but participation is not limited to MaMut invitees. When launching a new camp, we always try to find the most mathematically talented in the whole country: we hold smaller scale recruiting events at various locations. We have established connections with many maths teachers who will often recommend us good students.
Children can – and frequently do – join in subsequent years. This is important since not everyone’s talent is evident in 7th grade. At the same time there are dropouts as well, primarily due to a change in the direction of the kids’ interests.
The size of each new group is typically between 25 and 35. We have been trying to launch two new groups each year, so we have approximately 60 participants from each grade.
On average, each group has two to three camps per year, with a total of 10-13 camps until they leave high school. Most camps last from Friday afternoon until Sunday afternoon, though during school breaks camps will often last three, or even four days. Occasionally there are one day meetups; these can either be after the last “official” camp, but also in between two normal camps.

Group work

The children work in small (1-4 people) groups in our camps. A one-person group is allowed, though extremely rare, and some organizers disallow groups of 4 people.
Working together, for us, does not mean splitting up tasks among each other, or sharing your solutions with your groupmates. On the contrary, our goal is that every student should find as many solutions on their own as possible, so sharing solutions is explicitly discouraged. You may wonder, what is then the point of working in groups? We believe that if the a part (or the whole) of the group fails to solve a problem on their own, then and only then it is time for a brainstorming session. Kids can then share their ideas and different approaches, and hopefully this can lead to a solution.
The work of the groups is constantly supervised by the camp leader and the helpers during their frequent visits. On these visits the members of the group would report on what problems they have succeeded with, and can also ask for help on problems they have struggled with but made little or no progress. Only those solutions are discussed at such visits that are already owned by all the group members. We might listen to solutions known only to part of the group, but in these cases we always make sure that the other members are excluded from the discussion.
It is important for the camp leader to monitor the progress of each group in order to set the right speed and difficulty for the camp. There is always a preliminary plan for the whole weekend, but adjustments are made whenever necessary based on the actual achievements of the participants.

Schedule of a typical camp

Most camps start at 4:30pm on Friday and end at 2pm on Sunday. The weekend is based on sessions of intensive problem solving, with a total of 14 full hours spent purely on maths. This is indeed a lot of time. However, since each group meets twice, or at most three times, each year, we try to make the most of our time together. This is the main reason for running the camps with such an intensive programme.
The actual work starts out Friday at 5pm, typically with homework discussion. Then the kids are split into small groups who then work on new problems. After dinner we play games together. We also have many popular and creative board games available for those who do not want to join in the bigger group games.
On Saturday work starts at 9am and lasts until 1pm with a 30 minute break. The activities are a mix between discussing remaining homework and problems from Friday, as well as thinking on new problems. After lunch we have a 3 hour break. Work resumes in the afternoon by first discussing solutions. Then we have the “group race for chocolate”. This is a very popular event among the children. There is a small competitive edge to this game, however we try to keep the emphasis of competition minimal. The students are given 5 problems for at least 2.5 hours. In case a group would solve all the problems before time runs out, we always have further questions to keep even the smartest kids busy. At the end, each team receives prizes in the form of chocolate. There are only two categories: “very good” and “even better”, so always everyone gets a prize.
We also try to start mathematical activities at 9am on Sunday, though if the kids seem tired this might be delayed a little. The programme lasts roughly until 2pm, again with a 30 minute break.

Inbetween camps

At the end of each camp we give the students a document detailing the most important problems of the weekend, organized by themes, whose solutions everybody has to know in the subsequent camp. It is very important that everybody familiarizes themselves with this summary document, since this is what the new material in the following camp will be based on. Everybody ought to know the solutions to these problems “by heart”. The document also emphasizes connections between various problems, and there is always a section called “Important ideas” where methods and viewpoints that played an important role in the camp are presented in a distilled way. This section is very important since often its contents are completely omitted from the standard mathematical curriculum.
The students also receive homework problems (typically 10-12), some of which are compulsory while others are voluntary. These problems usually include extremely difficult ones as well. More recently some of the solutions have to be turned in via email before the next camp.

Venue

The camps take place at the Tapolcsányi Boarding School. The children are lodged in rooms with bunk-beds, up to 6-8 people in a room. One of the rooms has a blackboard, that is where the discussion sessions are held. This room thus becomes one of the focal points of social life in the camp.
The students are split into 8-10 smaller groups that work separately, each group in a different space, so they can work undisturbed by others. Bedrooms, study rooms, common rooms, and the dining hall all serve as such spaces.
Eating is organized on an individual basis, there is no food provided centrally as the building has no capacity for that. Initially this might come as a surprise for parents, but experience of many years shows that this does not constitute any problem at all. There are three large refrigerators, three microwave ovens, and a large dining area at the disposal of the children, who thus can easily bring their own food from home.

Costs

The camps are completely free for all participants. The boarding school (or rather its sustaining authority) currently charges 2115 Ft per person per night, as well as a 350 Ft per night tourist tax for people 18 years and older.
Unfortunately the school actually receives none of this money, and thus their teachers and staff or not compensated at all for having to put up with our camps. This boarding school is maintained by the state to provide lodging and education for children living in extreme poverty or with very difficult family backgrounds, and the financial prospects of the school are very bad. Therefore, it is our mission to improve the lives of students in this school by all means possible, for example by donating money for summer camps, study groups, books, and so on. We plan to set aside 1000 Ft per participant per night for these purposes.
The people who run the camps (the leader and the helpers, usually 5-6 people) do this as volunteers, and we also do not charge anything for the preparations that go into each camp. Thus the total sum we pay after each participant (including our voluntary contribution to the school) is 4230 + 2000 = 6230 Ft, and 700 Ft more for kids older than 18.
For three night camps this is 6345 + 3000 = 9345 Ft, plus an extra 1050 Ft for participants over 18.
If you wish to support the activities of our foundation, please kindly send your donations to the following account:
11600006-00000000-67814154 (name: A Gondolkodás Öröme Alapítvány)
We want to emphasize, however, that participation in the camps is not in any way related to the act of donating, nor to the amount donated. Please support us only to the extent you can easily afford and only if you believe we are working towards a worthy cause.