Thursday, May 2, 2013

Brainy Stuff: Homer Math Meet

Every spring Homer Middle School hosts a borough-wide math meet for top 6th through 8th grader math students.  It is patterned after the national MathCounts meet, with sprint, target, team and countdown rounds.  Being the good mom I am, I offered to volunteer to be a proctor at the meet last Friday (after slacking and not helping for the two years my daughter was in it!).

Mathletes hard at work

The day began with kids streaming in from schools all over the peninsula:  Nikolaevsk, Ninilchik, Nikiski, Soldotna, Kenai, and Chapman (I'm sure I'm missing a few), as well as homeschoolers.  Once the kids got a snack, we proctors spread the 90 kids at tables around the gym with pencils, paper and tests.  After giving them directions, all math coaches and adults besides the proctors had to leave the room.  The four of us proctors paced the gym for 40 minutes while the kids furiously worked on the sprint round, which was a sprint because there were 30 problems to complete in the time allotted, and most kids would not finish them.

A quick break after that allowed us to sharpen pencils and put out clean scratch paper while the kids snacked, drank water and swapped comments about problems.  Yes!  They like math so much that they want to talk about which problems they got right, which ones they got wrong, how the problem was solved and what the answer was.  Cracks me up.  I was never so into math.

The target round consists of 8 problems to be completed in 30 minutes.  Once again we read the directions and paced the room, making sure there were no straying eyes.  More kids finished all the questions on this round.

A little relief between rounds.

Lunch was next, with kids scattering around the gym to eat guessed it!  Swap stories about math problems!  Sorry--I'm cracking up some more.  Not all the kids love math, but a significant portion of them do.

After lunch things got fun.  The coaches had split the kids into teams.  Each team was supposed to have 2 girls, 2 boys, some high-level performers and and lower-level performers, all from different schools.  One mom I was talking to whose son is going to graduate from high school mentioned that her son still remembers kids he was on teams with in middle school math meets.  The kids got 20 minutes to complete 10 problems.  They could split them up however they wanted.  The first 10 minutes there was hardly a sound as the kids had divvied up the problems and were working hard, though we did remind them they could talk!  As they completed the problems there was a low murmur as they began to discuss them.  I joked to another proctor that we had a room full of middle-schoolers, we'd told them they could talk and they wouldn't talk!

Another break and the suspense rose.  For the final round the top 12 scorers from the combined sprint and target rounds are selected to compete.  Here's a description of the procedure for the countdown round:  "The two lowest ranked students are paired, a question is projected on the screen and students are given 45 seconds to solve the problem. A student may buzz in at any time, and if s/he answers correctly, a point is scored; if a student answers incorrectly, the other student has the remainder of the 45 seconds to answer. Three questions are read to each pair of students, one question at a time, and the student who scores the most points (not necessarily 2 out of 3) captures the place, progresses to the next round and challenges the next highest ranked student. This procedure continues until the fourth ranked Mathlete and her/his opponent compete. For the final four rounds, the first student to correctly answer three questions advances. The Countdown Round proceeds until a first place individual is identified."  All the rest of the kids watch, and lots of parents filled the bleachers at this point, the only section that they could join in.  If neither of the kids could answer the question the kids in the audience were allowed to answer.

That done, a short break was followed by an awards ceremony for the top 3 places for each round as well as overall winners from the combined sprint and target rounds.  One amazing 8th grader cleaned up, winning all events (though I think his team got second).  He won the state MathCounts meet the past two years and he went on to Nationals.  Denver ended up tying for first place in the target round with that boy and the first words out of his mouth were:  "I can't believe I tied with brain-iac!"  There were also prizes of iTunes cards (what every kid wants!) and other goodies just for participating.

Homer High School is ranked in the top 8% in the country.  Part of the reason why is because the feeder schools (elementary and middle) have awesome events like math meets that the kids can engage at a higher level in academics.  Parental and teacher support makes a difference as well, as does the culture of excellence and learning.  I was so pleased to have spent a day helping out with this event and I'm a little sad it took me so long to get around to doing so as my daughter has participated in all the math meet events the past couple years.  I'll be the first to sign up to help next year!

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