Wednesday, January 31, 2018

1/30 Math Counts Prep Day

We're only two weeks out from MathCounts and I've been so busy with various topics and activities  that I haven't really specifically focused on it. For the most part we're doing interesting problems that will overlap anyway and it will all work out but I wanted to spend one day going over the format before the kids go so they know what to expect.

So I went to the MathCounts site and printed out last year's contest questions:

I knew I would go over the basic format and rules i..e how many questions, can you use a calculator what do you do as a team?  I also wanted to try out a little bit of everything.  Immediately, I decided that I couldn't really do the countdown rounds. Those are run like a quiz bowl and I have neither the equipment nor desire to to replicate that.  For one, I have a few kids who I think would find it too high pressure and secondly it only allows a few kids to participate at a time which I dislike for  class management reasons as well as on general principle that I want every kid doing math for as much of the scant hour that we have. So hopefully that won't have any impact on the performance at the contest.

Instead I decided to focus on the individual and team sections. (I printed the target round but knew even going in we wouldn't have time to try those out.)

Thinking about this ahead of time, I decided to try out a new strategy with the individual round: speed dating.

Basically I had the kids setup a large row of tables in the center of the room and had everyone face someone else. To start I gave out one of the even numbered problems to each kid. My instructions were: this is your problem, you will solve it and then for everyone else you will be the expert and double check their answer as well as help with any problems. We then rotated every few minutes. Every rotation the kids told each other their respective problems and then worked on them.

I was worried going in that the rotation timing would be tricky especially since the problems varied in difficulty. That turned out to not be an issue because they were generally "simple enough" that everyone could finish within a few minutes and I just had to survey where everyone was. It also let me point out that the difficulty varied and that different people would take different amounts of time depending on which problem they were on. That had a useful effect on expectations.

Overall, I would use this format again for easier problems/review.  It seemed to keep kids working over a larger set of problems and I liked how it farmed out answer checking. There are 4 issues to keep in mind

  • In a complete rotation everyone will only see half of the problems. So you need to swap the problems at that point if you want to have everyone to do everything.
  • Timing can be still be tricky.  The problems should be varied in difficult but not by "too much".
  • I didn't stress the ownership as much as I need to initially. If I reuse I will emphasize that role and go around and check for any questions at that point about the problems.
  • I suspect this falls apart the more complex the questions are.

Coincidentally, one of the teacher's running the yearbook wandered in to take photos in the middle of all this. So we'll definitely be in the yearbook looking studious. As my son remarked afterwards, the club hasn't gotten any school paper mentions and I should work on this in the future.  For one, I'll take a team photo at MathCounts and submit it.

For the second half, I handed out the team tests and just group everyone based on where they had landed at the end of all the seat rotations.  (coincidental Visible Random Grouping) During this section I floated a lot, asked hopefully helpful questions,  answered any of theirs, and pointed out problems that were not correctly done yet.  I was  actually pleased that this went very smoothly. I didn't really need to do any prompting to keep everyone engaged.

Finally, because in my excitement  I had jumped in I had to reserve 5 minutes at the end to go over the problem of the week.   Interestingly there were two programmatic solutions submitted this time. If this trend continues I'm going to start handing out explicit problems aimed all the kids who want to program.

New P.O.T.W:

A domino pip problem from UWaterloo.  I've liked these type problems in the past.

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