Saturday, March 21, 2015

Math is Cool 5th Grade Contest

This was my second contest experience. I brought 2 teams of four this time and because of a late withdrawal ended up drafting my son to fill the last spot. So this one was special for being our first experience doing this together. Overall this was another huge event. There were over 30 schools and 600 kids participating. The noise level in the auditorium at the end was deafening and the number of tests to grade was also a bit daunting. Also unlike last time all the coaches graded tests together during  most of the contest. I found this to be really interesting since it let me talk to other coaches at other schools and find out what they are doing.

The downside of this as far as the blog goes is that while I can recite the answers to the test by heart I didn't have a chance to really look at any of the questions. My general observation was that explicit practice would probably raise performance. Especially on the team relay and mental math sections. However, I don't think they mesh with my core values for the club that well. The test in general tend to emphasize speed and precision mostly centered around calculation. The best sections were the challenge problems at the end of the individual test but they gave the kids only 35 minutes to do 40 questions. So having prior knowledge helps a tremendous amount especially if you're lucky enough to have seem similar problem variants.

If I were designing one of these contest myself I'd like to see (much) longer formats with more challenging problems. Give the kids more than a minute per problem and see what they  can actually reason about. Maybe have divisions by geometry or number theory. Also I'd de-emphasize mental math. Perhaps have several divisions and have one for mental calculations that did more problems and more varied ones.  So let those who like doing these type of tasks still have a space but broaden the scope so more kinds of mathematics were present.

That all said, as was the case last time there was a lot of energy in the rooms and I think it was valuable for the kids to be in a space with several hundred other peers who were into math. I'm going to have everyone talk about it when we meet again to see how the kids felt about the experience as well.  And  I even recruited a to-be fourth grade girl for the next year who will be transferring to our school. At the end day we left with one kid winning 4th place overall for the division and the whole team at sixth place.

Note: next time bring earplugs.


  1. Did you guys do Math Olympiad this year?

    No mental or speed math, all the tests are team tests, and the teams compete against a target score, not each other.

  2. Not this year. I didn't discover it until registration had passed. I'm on the mailing list for next year so we will try it out then.

  3. We're looking at adding Math Kangaroo next year and we're definitely planning on Blaine (didn't go this year). Didn't realize there were so many contests out there for the younger grades! This year our 4th & 5th graders did Knights of Pi, Math is Cool, MOEMS, Math League and Math Olympiad. Math is Cool was the favorite, and MOEMS was (surprisingly) the least favorite.

    1. Which school are you at and would you be willing to send me your email? I'd love to have some more contacts around the area.