Monday, May 9, 2016

WSMC Math Olympiad

I brought a small team over the weekend to the WSMC Math Olympiad down in Maple Valley.
The contest is sponsored by the a math educators organization: Wa. State Math Council which is an affiliate of NCTM. This was also my first time attending and I haven't fully debriefed the kids yet to see their impressions. I'll add those on after this Tuesday's Math Club meeting.

Organization

  • Unlike all the other offsite events, this one fills up very quickly.  Next time if I go again I will register immediately when it opens rather than my normal procedure of finding team(s) and then registering. Hopefully that would procure us a spot in the much closer Seattle U. site.
  • No food is provided at lunch which is a bit on the late side. 
  • Calculators are allowed but looked to be completely unnecessary and I think I would not encourage the kids to bring them.

Pros

  • Standards based scoring. If you get over a certain number correct then you get a ribbon. Over another threshold you get a medal. There is no limit to the number of winners and no team rankings.  This makes for a more low key experience where more kids get awards.
  • The test is fairly generous with the amount of time given per problem which also is great for kids who are not super fast (unlike all the other local contests).
  • There's one long form problem for 1 hour and a series of 20 minutes short form sections. The long form problem in theory is a chance to do something deeper.

Cons

  • I proctored a sixth grade room. Most of the kids finished the short form sections very quickly. There needs to be more problems, or harder problems or less time.  This is an issue just from a test proctoring perspective.  You really don't want middle schoolers sitting around idle. If I go again, I might bring some puzzles for them to occupy the dead time just like I do for the MOEMS tests.
  • There's a lot of potential in the long form problem. But the sixth grade version I administered was structured around calculating the profit in cutting down a tree for lumber. In practice this meant they gave all the formulas and the kids really just had to plug the numbers into their calculators and do a write up. There should be a lot more room for problem solving in an hour long exercise. 
  • There's no individual section. I like events where kids who like to work together and those who like to work by themselves both have a chance to shine.

Overall, this format improves on several of my concerns with the other off site events. And I think the kids like winning medals which is much more likely here. But the problem format is not challenging enough. I could partly compensate by entering them in the sixth grade rather than the 5th grade level.
In my ideal world, this contest would have more (at least 2x) problems in the short form section and something less mechanical for the long form part. I'd also like progressively more difficult problem sets where there is enough doable problems to not be discouraging but enough interesting problems to provide some challenge. I  do really like the generous time limits. 


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