CAMP 2020 Day 4 – “we don’t want CAMP to end”

We almost didn’t want to announce that it is Day 4 at CAMP 2020. Tomorrow will be the last day CAMPers spend time with new friends in the Zoom classrooms, eagerly sharing ideas and stories. Over the past four days, students have bonded with their classmates, their mentors (our junior staff members) assigned to each group, and senior instructors.

  • 10 AM EST, Art class with the SEC group: [August 2021 – This paragraph was updated to offer a more accurate description of Tut.] Tiffany, our art instructor, started the course with a fun activity. Tutnese, Tut, or Double Dutch, is a language game invented in the U.S. by enslaved Black People. Historically, Tut was used first as a way to communicate with each other without detection by slaveowners. Later, Black children also learned Tut in order to converse in privacy from non-speakers, including adults. For children in the twentieth century, it became a game. In her autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, author Maya Angelou (1928–2014) recalled trying to learn it instead of Pig Latin during her childhood. Tutnese was essentially a spoken crypto-system that was publicized by African-American Gloria McIlwain in her 1995 book which explains the language. It has experienced a renaissance in recent years through the internet. In Tutnese, vowels are pronounced normally, but each consonant is replaced with a syllable from the following table Tiffany shared on Zoom:

We went around the Zoom classroom, and CAMPers all pronounced their names in Tutnese.  

After the refreshing starter, the SEC group proceeded to make artwork with secret messages. CAMPers encoded a fun fact about themself with the abstract word alphabet they made on Day 3. In other words, we substituted a symbol for every letter. CAMPers used various mediums of their choices like watercolor and crayon. With grid-like composition and colors, their message assembles modernist paintings and patchworks. If we weren’t provided with the keys, it would be nearly impossible to decrypt the text from visual images.

Tiffany was showing her demo on Zoom


A message from CAMPer Sarah G, the TAN section
The key to Sarah’s text

After collecting works from students, Tiffany shared a story at her house after the storm on Tuesday. Her rain gutters were somehow filled with cute tadpoles

Tiffany shared a story happened at her house

Captivated by the story, A CAMPer led the conversation on how long tadpoles develop into frogs. He was so excited to hear from our instructors again soon: sending another photo to update the event that he forgot that our program ends tomorrow

  • 11 AM EST, Math with Erin Toliver: Soon after meeting Erin weeks before the program, I learned that she is a Bard alumna. This year she is returning to Bard on her 20th anniversary after receiving her master’s in math at Dartmouth College. Just today, we heard that CAMPer Gemma from the SIN group adores Erin a tremendous amount.

I asked Erin for her perspective on the program and why she devoted so much time and effort to teaching math with children. 

“I’m so grateful for the opportunity to be involved with the Bard Math Circle! Though it wasn’t around during my student days at Bard, an amazing community has developed since. I especially love sharing my passion for mathematics with kids because they’re so open to new ways of looking at things. I love seeing the look on a student’s face when they’ve discovered a new pattern, found a different perspective, or made a new connection for a deeper understanding of this glorious world of mathematics.”

— Erin Toliver, CAMP math senior instructor

Erin, wearing the CAMP t-shirt from 2015

Erin’s dedication to mathematical education for youth was undoubtedly reflected in today’s class. After meeting the CAMpers on Day 1. Erin quickly adjusted her plan for bettering students’ learning experience with CAMP.

In her classroom, we analyzed a long encrypted message through letter frequencies and common letter pairing. With the help of Tsitsi Mambo, an undergraduate at Bard and the TA for the COS section, Erin made sure she engages all of the CAMPers from multiple devices, including her iPad, iPhone, and computer. 

CAMPers were decoding a few fun codes on the printout through Erin’s iPad.

Nora from the COS group was the first student to bring ideas on the secret message. She observed from letter frequencies that the “MIT” in the text would be “the,” and “MIAM” should stand for “that.” We also heard from CAMPers Ben, Joshua, Vi, Annika, Jason, Mia, and Zozo, who hesitated to open the camera since they had lost power in the storm, and were using public WIFI today.

By the end of the class, we accomplished the goal of decoding the message: “I think that I am among the few lucky ones who are exploiting complexity. Most people are unhappy with the emergence of complexity. They would prefer it if the world were very simple, but then it would be a doom for a cryptographer like myself”Adi Shamir, a co-inventor of the RSA algorithm. 

  • 2 PM EST, Programming with the CSC section: I joined the CSC group in the afternoon with CS instructor Karen Blumberg. Before the class, Karen asked CAMPers what they had been up to at the math and art classes. Rafa and Gaia responded to Karen saying they were learning Modular Arithmetic and encoding with art. 

The group further developed their Caesar cipher algorithms into an encryption/decryption game that we can play multiple times with different plaintext and keys. Our instructor shared some shortcuts of coding on the screen. 

CAMPers were coding a cipher/decipher game

As usual, Arvind and Elias shared their experience with the Python language on their screen. A few of the less talkative CAMPers from Day 1 also became more verbalized, raising their hand for suggestions to improve the design. Each student from the group seemed confident about the new skill they learned, together they made a spectacular collection of minds (a quote from Karen). 

Alexander Warren, CAMP alumni (he was a student in the very first year of CAMP!) and a rising sophomore at MIT, are now working as the junior staff for the COT group. He majors in Computer Science and Electrical Engineering at school. In the past few days, Alex befriended all members in his section: he brought up some issues from working with multiple programming languages. Although a negative value works in the Python language, it would create an error in C#. We also knew that there is a thousand times limit with the Python: the game CAMPers designed can only run a thousand times before shutting down. 

  • Though torn between sadness and excitement for our last day, we also had some good news at our staff meeting: CAMP was recognized by the American Math Society with a 2020 Epsilon Award (link to This award included financial support that allowed the “Creative and Analytical Math Program” of the Bard Math Circle to provide need-based scholarships to CAMP this summer. We hope that more and more CAMPers can join us next year, and in years to come.

Hope to see you once more tomorrow. 

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