Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Making Competition

One of the benefits of a college teaching job is the constant stream of high energy, bright, creative students with oodles of initiative. But it can keep you busy.

Math-Team-Matics is one of those things.

Andrew Otten and Sarah Jamison, two preservice teachers graduating next fall, came by with an idea for a math competition. They had seen the competition at Grand Rapids Community College for 9th and 10th graders. It's a little ironic as I am not competitive myself (though we had a big family discussion about this recently) and spend most of my time thinking about how to support struggling students. In addition to supporting Andrew and Sarah I thought it would be good for me to spend some time thinking about the other end of the academic success spectrum. Plus there's a bit of the game aspect to this - something I'd love to increase in future years of the competition.

In addition to Andrew and Sarah, who also provided most of our ideas on what the events should be, the key players on the Math-Team-Matics-Team were:
  • Chelsea Ridge, Regional Math and Science Center math coordinator. Great organizational skills and administrative support as well as event design.
  • Karen Novotny, full prof in the math department, amazing math knowledge, teaching and problem design.
  • Ruth Meyering, affiliate instructor in the math department, former high school teacher and coach of math competition teams. She was the last person to join of this group, but her experience with the competitions helped immeasurably.
All of us and several great student volunteers put in a long, hectic day on the competition to make it a reality. In designing the event, we put a lot of thought into making it an actual team event. Our lack of familiarity with the existing competitions led to some nice variation on how they usually proceed. The competition was open to 7th to 10th graders, but the content was open through some high school geometry.

Volunteer needed to try out this problem herself.

First Event: Team Challenge
Karen came up with this problem and next year's possible team challenge in 20 minutes of brainstorming. We knew this was pretty stiff, but wanted to come up with somethingthat they would need teamwork to do. Many students had not been exposed to isometric drawing and - as Ruth warned us - geometry was a challenge throughout the day. The staircase pattern can often be one of those problems that people either know because they have seen before or find it a stumper.

PDF directly

Second Event: Individual Test
How do you make this about a team? Andrew, Sarah and Ruth saw this as essential and a key part of other competitions. So we made the scoring a bit novel: drop the high and low score for the team. But to include the benefit of having an exceptional individual performer, also add a team score that awards a point for each problem that someone on the team got right.

PDF Directly

Third Event: Relay Race
Ruth runs a relay with coach cooperation.
I had never seen a structure like this before. One student does a problem, then hands back a numerical solution that is needed in the next problem. Ruth helped me understand these with a bunch of relays she uses for review in her algebra classes.  There's no need for the problems to be connected, but obviously it's more aesthetically pleasing if they are. I was particularly fond of the number-themed set here, as students think numbers are the simplest. However, these were the problems with which students struggled the most, and I learned that they should scale in design and complexity. Next year these will be easier overall, and gauged to make the most of the different amounts of time students on the team have to work.

PDF Directly

Fourth Event: Quiz Bowl
Waiting to steal.
(Psssst, it's Archimedes.)
There was a bit of a panic with these, as the slides were made up to use Classroom Response System as buzzers, which then did not work with the classroom computers. But here is where the coaches and teams proved their kindness and good spirit: they helped us determine a system of hand thumping to determine who had responded. Though I had arranged a Swiss structure (like chess or Magic tournaments) I had neglected to include tiebreakers! The points for this round were too swingy also, so we're modifying for next year. Winning three quiz bowls was pretty much a guarantee of making the finals. Since that was also quiz bowl - quite an advantage. Andrew got some old fashioned proper buzzers working for the finals, and that added a lot. As well as having all the players and parents to watch.

Top two teams in the younger Division 1 finals.
Since we originally didn't know if students would be age-mixed, as we didn't know how many teams to expect, we designed these to be mostly asked in turn, with a chance to steal if the team answers incorrectly. That worked pretty well, and will probably be a keeper. (Also be careful with these questions - there were some incorrect answers on the key (!) and I'm not sure they all got fixed.) People were doubtful about the Sometimes/Always/Never questions, but they inspired a lot of student reasoning in practice. There's also some math history here. These were tough, even though I tried to write those Jeopardy style where the actual question was distinct from the historical tidbit. We have a culture, people!

PDF directly

We're definitely interested in feedback, but since Math-Team-Matics 2 will be November 8th, 2014, it's even more beneficial than usually. Suggestions and questions, please!
And if you're anywhere nearby, we'd love to see you there! 

Division 2 Camps and Runners Up from the same school?
People will be gunning for Coopersville next November.

No comments:

Post a Comment