To the surprise of administrators, the idea to form an after-school math team at Beecher Road School caught on and attracted
some 50 fourth, fifth and sixth grade students. Some of them will be taking part in a national competition called the Math Olympiad later this year.
“When the idea first came up about our forming a math team, we thought we would be looking for a total of about ten or twelve students,” said Assistant Principal Nancy Whyte. “To our surprise and delight, we found over 50 interested students.”
The team meets for an hour every Friday afternoon. They work on fact fluency, math contests and problem solving techniques, said Andrea Fleischman, a parent volunteer and former high school math teacher. Sixth grade teacher Joseph Holowienko also is part of the coaching team.
Some of the problem solving techniques they are learning about are: making a table, writing an organized list, working backwards, drawing a picture and finding a pattern.
“The students have enthusiastically learned these strategies and applied them to different problems,” Fleischman said.
They do math sprints – timed exercises – and math contest problems, for which they discuss strategies and look at extensions. The students practice problem solving as a group as well as on their own.
They are expected to work on assigned problems at home as well.
To train for the Math Olympiads, the coaches run mock contests. Those who score the highest compete with other Math Olympiad teams.
“We compete with schools and organizations from all over the country,” Fleischman said.
Two examples of problems that the young mathematicians have worked on are as follows:
A book has 500 pages numbered 1,2,3, and so on. How many times does the digit 1 appear in the page numbers? And, A woman spent two-thirds of her money. She lost two-thirds of the remainder and then had $4 left. With how much money did she start? *
Oh, and by the way: calculators are not permitted in Math Olympiad contests.
“Their enthusiasm is infectious,” Whyte said. ‘Watching a student come to the correct solution for a difficult problem is truly priceless.”
* The problems above come from Math Olympiad Contest Problems: Volume 1 by Dr. George Lenchner. The solutions to the problems are: 1) the digit “1” will appear 200 times. 2) $36 is the amount the woman had to begin with.