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daijobu

MathCounts and problem solving skills

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I graduated a few students from my MC team last year, and added 2 girls in 8th grade and 2 boys in 6th grade.  The 8th graders were both taking pre-calculus, so I was optimistic about having some strong math students on the team. 

 

So I gave the students a placement test to see who would be the top four students to participate in Team Round, and my 2 new 6th graders earned scores well above the 8th graders.  I believe the difference is that my 8th grade gals were recently pulled from regular school to homeschool and did not have much problem solving experience.  Their learning was accelerated, but not necessarily deep.

 

In contrast, both 6th grade boys had experience with math competitions in elementary school and were both homeschooled.  My sense is that many students in regular schools don't get the opportunity to participate in math competitions.

 

It calls to mind my own first experience with math competition, which didn't happen until 9th grade.  It took 2 years of flailing on the AHSMEs (and monthly practice AHSMEs) before I gained the confidence to solve harder problems.  I'm lucky that taking the AHSME was pretty much required in my math classes, so I had no choice but to keep participating despite months of disappointing scores.  I'm keeping my fingers cross for these 8th grade girls, that they stick with it and improve this year.

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I graduated a few students from my MC team last year, and added 2 girls in 8th grade and 2 boys in 6th grade.  The 8th graders were both taking pre-calculus, so I was optimistic about having some strong math students on the team. 

 

So I gave the students a placement test to see who would be the top four students to participate in Team Round, and my 2 new 6th graders earned scores well above the 8th graders.  I believe the difference is that my 8th grade gals were recently pulled from regular school to homeschool and did not have much problem solving experience.  Their learning was accelerated, but not necessarily deep.

 

In contrast, both 6th grade boys had experience with math competitions in elementary school and were both homeschooled.  My sense is that many students in regular schools don't get the opportunity to participate in math competitions.

 

It calls to mind my own first experience with math competition, which didn't happen until 9th grade.  It took 2 years of flailing on the AHSMEs (and monthly practice AHSMEs) before I gained the confidence to solve harder problems.  I'm lucky that taking the AHSME was pretty much required in my math classes, so I had no choice but to keep participating despite months of disappointing scores.  I'm keeping my fingers cross for these 8th grade girls, that they stick with it and improve this year.

 

I had much the same experience in my years coaching MathCounts. The best problem solvers weren't necessarily the kids who'd accelerated through the curriculum the fastest. It really takes a more holistic way of looking at problems than the simple cookie-cutter approach seen in most textbooks. As RR says, it's not about having the most tools in your toolbox, but having the most creativity in using the few basic tools you do have.

 

My personal proudest moment as a MC coach was watching a young man who entered the program in grade six. He learned at home with Math U See, and had a 100% average in that curriculum. He expected that MC would be "his thing"...well, the first day's lesson and problem sheets left him in tears. He'd never seen problems that required creative or deep thinking before. I felt terrible!! But I did my best to encourage him, spoke to his mom, and he ended up continuing in the MC club for all of middle school. By the 8th grade, he was doing super well and really enjoying the challenge. Win, win. I hope that your girls do the same!

 

Oh, and I also was first exposed to competition math via the AHSME back in the old days. Real eye-opening experience for me, and one that brought me much enjoyment after I got over the initial shock!

 

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My personal proudest moment as a MC coach was watching a young man who entered the program in grade six. He learned at home with Math U See, and had a 100% average in that curriculum. He expected that MC would be "his thing"...well, the first day's lesson and problem sheets left him in tears. He'd never seen problems that required creative or deep thinking before. I felt terrible!! But I did my best to encourage him, spoke to his mom, and he ended up continuing in the MC club for all of middle school. By the 8th grade, he was doing super well and really enjoying the challenge. Win, win. I hope that your girls do the same!

 

 

 

I know the feeling!  I feel like I'm teaching them to swim by throwing them into the deep end, but you really can't learn without doing.  

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