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TheAttachedMama

Improving Mathcounts / AMC 8 Scores (AOPS related)

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Hello,

I have two children who are finishing 5th and 6th grade this summer.   (We school year round.)   Both kids have become very interested in math competitions this year.   They think they are very fun and enjoy the friendly-competition.    I talked to them about their goals over the summer, and both kids said they would like to improve their AMC 8 and Mathcounts scores.    (My rising 7th-grade son would love to make it to mathcounts state this year.    My rising 6th-grade daughter says she just wants to beat her older brother.  <insert weary laugh>)  

What they did this year:    This year both kids worked through AOPS Pre-Algebra at home.   They will finish this book in mid-July.  I started out "teaching" the course to them myself.   However, they quickly took off on their own and started to self-teach.   (Which is scary to me since I worry about handing off such an important subject to kids this young!  But they enjoy the independence.)    To make sure they are REALLY understanding the material, I have had them also "master" (not just pass) every pre-algebra topic in Alcumus before I let them move ahead in the book.   (Alcumus also does a nice job of reviewing topics previously mastered to make sure they are retaining the information.)    If they have extra time in their day, they also work through previous mathcounts tests for extra mixed-review and practice.   (They have worked through all of the past school and chapter level tests.)  

Their Goals:   They've asked me for help improving their mathcounts scores, but I am not sure how to help them.   I know they are a bit "behind" in math compared to some of the other mathletes competiting.   So, I am really not sure what the best use of our time would be.     My goals for them are to encourage them to keep working on difficult problems and learning math (obviously).   (This is building a lot of virtue and work ethic.)   Both kids tend to like to solve things in their heads and all of the emphasis on speed has not helped this problem.  🙂   They are also very sloppy in their work.  So I think they also need some instruction on writing solutions to problems, showing work, writing neatly (or maybe learning LaTex since I suspect some form of dygraphia).   

Here are some options I am considering after we complete the AOPS Pre-Algebra book:

Option 1:   Start the AOPS Problem Solving 1 Book, then start AOPS Introduction to Algebra sometimes in September.   Keep working on past Mathcounts tests as time allows.

Option 2:   Just start Introduction to Algebra in Mid July with the goal of getting through the introductory math book as soon as they are able.   Insist that the kids write out a few solutions to select problems so they can prove they *know* how to show work.   Keep working on past MathCounts tests as time allows.

Option 3:   Finish Pre-Algebra in Mid July.   Then just start "spamming" past mathcounts tests full time for the rest of the summer until the AMC 8 test in November.   This will allow them to get through all of the state and most national Mathcounts level tests.   

Option 4:   Other (please reply)  

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For what it is worth, their Mathcounts coach does NOT like us using AOPS as our main curriculum.  She says it takes too much time to get through the books.    She tends to go quickly through easier math books (prentice hall, glencoe etc.), and then spend most of the time working on past mathcounts tests, going through missed problems, etc. etc.   Her children do really well---so maybe I should listen to her!   (I would except that my children LOVE AOPS videos and alcumus.)   

 

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I have some question: Currently what is the biggest problem?

1. Accuracy

2. Speed

3. Missing content knowledge

4. Problem solving

In general I wouldn't compromise curriculum for a contest so I would also consider how much extra time are you willing to spend after doing regular Math on this. 

Note starting Algebra in 6th/7th is fairly accelerated to put things in context and  having done the AoPS algebra I think its worth the investment and will pay off long term better than practice tests. There is inherent value to the conceptual framework and problems that are not suitable for contests.

 

 

 

 

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1 hour ago, seaben said:

I have some question: Currently what is the biggest problem?

1. Accuracy

2. Speed

3. Missing content knowledge

4. Problem solving

In general I wouldn't compromise curriculum for a contest so I would also consider how much extra time are you willing to spend after doing regular Math on this. 

Note starting Algebra in 6th/7th is fairly accelerated to put things in context and  having done the AoPS algebra I think its worth the investment and will pay off long term better than practice tests. There is inherent value to the conceptual framework and problems that are not suitable for contests.

 

 

 

 

Oh yes, I won't compromise curriculum for a contest.   But if we have time over the summer, I am trying to figure out how best to use it.   We school year round.   (Taking longer breaks off around Thanksgiving and Christmas and Easter than most people...so we only take 2 weeks off every summer.)   They are going to finish their pre-algebra book before the rest of their other subjects, and I am trying to figure out what to do once we finish.  Does that make sense? 

They are doing well with speed and problem-solving.   I would say that they miss most problems due to the lack of certain content knowledge.    The second biggest problem is accuracy and making silly mistakes.   (However, that is getting better since we switched to AOPS this year.)   We also need to spend more time learning to use their calculator for the target round.  🙂

 

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Given those constraints I'd say option 2 sounds best.  You'll get a lot of bang for the buck out of knowing the Algebra. Then carve out a specified amount time on top of that for practicing tests. Make sure to focus the practice on reviewing answers and looking for how to improve being methodical.  Is there a pattern to the "silly mistakes".  What could you do next time to catch the error etc.    Note: you could also use the AoPS problem solving book for this additional practice instead of or in addition just past tests. The advantage here would be the soln manual explanations.

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Are they currently studying chapter level exams?  Calculate their scores according to the formula for individual scores:

INDIVIDUAL SCORE: calculated by taking the sum of the number of Sprint Round questions answered correctly and twice the number of Target Round questions answered correctly. There are 30 questions in the Sprint Round and eight questions in the Target Round, so the maximum possible Individual Score is 30 + 2(8) = 46. If used officially, the Countdown Round yields final individual standings.

Can you find out what is a typical score historically will advance a student in your chapter to state?  There's a fair amount of variation in the minimum scores necessary, with some very competitive chapters and other very easy chapters.  (Sometimes the easiest way to advance to state is to move.)

If your student has taken enough old exams, you can review and see where their weaknesses are:  algebra, geometry, c&p, or nt.  Or if they aren't able to finish the Sprint Round in the alloted time.  

Every year I coach a MathCounts team of students with different math experiences.  I have a lesson plan for every single problem, so if my student misses a geometry problem that requires the angle bisector theorem, I take them through a proof of the angle bisector theorem, and then we solve the problem.  It isn't a great substitute for simply studying geometry, but it gets you there in a pinch.  And if you are doing enough MC prep, you are likely to see another angle bisector theorem problem which will help reinforce this important tool.  I even have had a couple of students study with my MathCounts team in place of any regular math curriculum, though I don't recommend that.  

You can also use MathCounts minis which are problem sets combined with videos to brush up on specific skills.  I have cataloged all the minis by topics and grouped them according to different skills so I can assign them as optional homework for students who need more help. 

In addition to teamwork during the season I also work with students individually during the summer, often online to review old exams.  (We communicate over google hangouts video and use an online whiteboard.)  I will start with school/chapter level and then as that gets easier I challenge them with state and national level MC exams.   These are more difficult than the chapter level exams they will see.

As long as they are learning to use a calculator, I recommend RPN, and maybe with some formulas already plugged in.  

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Also a little goes a long way. Based on my experience last year, just consistently doing an hour or two a week for multiple months really adds up. For example, I had one student who wanted to improve her AMC 8 scores this year. She followed a lightweight practice schedule:  1 practice a week, reviewing what her mistakes each time and by the end saw significant gains. Likewise, I've sent a team to State Math Counts the last two year and  just interacting with interesting problems every week and then doing some practice activities leading up to MathCounts was enough for me to see huge growth year to year.

 

 

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12 hours ago, daijobu said:

 

As long as they are learning to use a calculator, I recommend RPN, and maybe with some formulas already plugged in.  

What is RPN?  Thanks!  

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Reverse Polish Notation

But now I'm going to retract that statement because apparently MC competitors these days prefer TI 84 or TI Nspire because you can automatically plug into formulas like quadratic.  I like my old HP because I'm used to RPN, but I may spend some time this summer learning one of the more popular calculators to see what the fuss is about.  

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On 5/21/2019 at 6:33 AM, TheAttachedMama said:

For what it is worth, their Mathcounts coach does NOT like us using AOPS as our main curriculum.  She says it takes too much time to get through the books.    She tends to go quickly through easier math books (prentice hall, glencoe etc.), and then spend most of the time working on past mathcounts tests, going through missed problems, etc. etc.   Her children do really well---so maybe I should listen to her!   (I would except that my children LOVE AOPS videos and alcumus.)   

 

 

Okay, this bugs the bejeepers out of me. "Takes too much time"??? Where's the freaking fire? They're elementary school students, for Pete's sake! Math competitions should be FUN, in my opinion; they should enhance math learning, not eclipse it. If your kids are loving AoPS and learning, why in the heck would a math teacher/coach want to undermine that and rush through easier material? Sheesh.

But back to your question. We were quite late to the MathCounts party, so my DD only competed her 8th grade year. By that time, as far as curriculum goes, she had completed AoPS Intro to Algebra A, Intro to Counting and Probability, and was enrolled in Intro to Algebra B (IIRC.) She took the MathCounts competition class the summer between 7th and 8 grade (which is what turned her onto the contest.) For prep, mostly she used (and loved!) the MathCounts trainer on the AoPS site. The trainer was, for her, the best preparation. (Where we live there are no math circles or independent math counts teams. The public school teacher would not let her participate at the school [against the law here-grr. I was highly amused when she smoked his kids at chapter. Bad mommy.], so DD competed as an individual.) She went to nationals, so it worked out okay for us (granted, we live in a rather pathetic state, but still...)

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4 hours ago, JoJosMom said:

 

But back to your question. We were quite late to the MathCounts party, so my DD only competed her 8th grade year. By that time, as far as curriculum goes, she had completed AoPS Intro to Algebra A, Intro to Counting and Probability, and was enrolled in Intro to Algebra B (IIRC.) She took the MathCounts competition class the summer between 7th and 8 grade (which is what turned her onto the contest.) For prep, mostly she used (and loved!) the MathCounts trainer on the AoPS site. The trainer was, for her, the best preparation. (Where we live there are no math circles or independent math counts teams. The public school teacher would not let her participate at the school [against the law here-grr. I was highly amused when she smoked his kids at chapter. Bad mommy.], so DD competed as an individual.) She went to nationals, so it worked out okay for us (granted, we live in a rather pathetic state, but still...)

 

Thanks for the tip on the MC Trainer.  And congrats to your dd on making it to Nationals!  I've been coaching for 7 years and only ever had 1 student make it to state, and I don't think I contributed much to his preparation.  

A minor point, but I want to say your blame about your student participating at the school may be misdirected.  It is my understanding that homeschooled students may not join the team of a regular school (or vice versa).  So your situation may be due to MathCounts rules, rather than state law or the whims of a teacher.  

A student may compete only for his/her official school of record. A student’s school of record is the student’s base or main school. A student taking limited course work at a second school or educational center may not register or compete for that second school or center, even if the student is not competing for his/her school of record. MATHCOUNTS registration is not determined by where a student takes his or her math course. If there is any doubt about a student’s school of record, the chapter or state coordinator must be contacted for a decision before registering

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On 5/21/2019 at 8:33 AM, TheAttachedMama said:

For what it is worth, their Mathcounts coach does NOT like us using AOPS as our main curriculum.  She says it takes too much time to get through the books.    She tends to go quickly through easier math books (prentice hall, glencoe etc.), and then spend most of the time working on past mathcounts tests, going through missed problems, etc. etc.   Her children do really well---so maybe I should listen to her!   (I would except that my children LOVE AOPS videos and alcumus.)   

 

I'll join others in strongly disagreeing with this coach. Accelerated kids should take tougher versions of courses, competitions are secondary, and in any case, AoPS's problem solving approach is good for both learning material and preparing for contests.

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19 hours ago, daijobu said:

 

Thanks for the tip on the MC Trainer.  And congrats to your dd on making it to Nationals!  I've been coaching for 7 years and only ever had 1 student make it to state, and I don't think I contributed much to his preparation.  

A minor point, but I want to say your blame about your student participating at the school may be misdirected.  It is my understanding that homeschooled students may not join the team of a regular school (or vice versa).  So your situation may be due to MathCounts rules, rather than state law or the whims of a teacher.  

A student may compete only for his/her official school of record. A student’s school of record is the student’s base or main school. A student taking limited course work at a second school or educational center may not register or compete for that second school or center, even if the student is not competing for his/her school of record. MATHCOUNTS registration is not determined by where a student takes his or her math course. If there is any doubt about a student’s school of record, the chapter or state coordinator must be contacted for a decision before registering

 

I understand your point, but no, he was being a jerk. He trotted out what he said was a (state) legal exception-which isn't. He was absolutely legally wrong, but it wasn't worth fighting about. I had no intention of putting my eighth grader in a situation with an adult who would have it in for her, and he would have. This is a very small place. His views are known. 😉

As for the other issue, every student here has the right to participate in public education to the extent desired. When choosing to participate, one becomes a student of the district and of the school. Other primarily homeschooled kids participate in MathCounts in our state. Just not here. 🙂

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2 hours ago, JoJosMom said:

 

As for the other issue, every student here has the right to participate in public education to the extent desired. When choosing to participate, one becomes a student of the district and of the school. Other primarily homeschooled kids participate in MathCounts in our state. Just not here. 🙂

 

Now you're making me jealous.  In California, you are either fully enrolled in a school or you are completely shut out.  How I would love to have my kids participate in our school's clubs or take one class at a time.  The flip side is we do have minimal oversight, so we are otherwise free to educate as we see fit.  

When homeschooling critics complain that there is no oversight of CA homeschoolers, I want to scream that if my kids could come on campus, they'd see first hand how well they are doing.  

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@daijobu 
I'm in CA (SD) and privately homeschooling. I have been able to gain some access on a case by case basis. I asked well in advance sometimes a year ahead of eligibility so that I could have an extended conversation with the club leaders. My son was on the local elementary Math Olympiad for the last two years and won their top scorer award both years. At a charter school, they welcomed homeschoolers for the AMC 8. I was also able to secure access to a middle school MO team. Math Counts is something that I was unsuccessful in gaining access to because there are a limited number of spots that they have for students. I'm working on gaining access to Science Olympiad currently. I've gotten positive intial contact, but that's still a bit to go to actual commitment.

 

Edited by calbear
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On 5/21/2019 at 9:56 PM, calbear said:

  Could you clarify what you were using for practice weekly? @seaben

 

Here's an example of something I did this fall. Its nothing super complicated. I used some google forms as well to have kids report back what they were doing and how it felt level-wise so I could adjust. I didn't use the MC trainer this year (its on my list for next) mostly because we had a really weird run of snow days that completely destroyed my scheduling prior to then.

 

image.thumb.png.9232bbdb7b8766b94d98ed6b6a0b7b99.pngHere'

 

 

 

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1 hour ago, calbear said:

@daijobu 
I'm in CA (SD) and privately homeschooling. I have been able to gain some access on a case by case basis. 

 

That's really great.  I'm wondering now whether I give up too easily.  Or maybe what I thought of as rare cases are more common than I thought.  

For example, I do know of students who have stopped attending a school, but they have continued a relationship and been able to participate on a debate and robotics team.  In the case of the robotics team, the homeschooling dad had founded the team and they went to nationals.  After his dd dropped out of the high school, they returned as 'volunteers'.   In the case of the debate team, the other parents were rude to this homeschooling family possibly out of jealousy because the student won more awards than his enrolled teammates.   

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1 hour ago, daijobu said:

That's really great.  I'm wondering now whether I give up too easily.  Or maybe what I thought of as rare cases are more common than I thought.  

For example, I do know of students who have stopped attending a school, but they have continued a relationship and been able to participate on a debate and robotics team.  In the case of the robotics team, the homeschooling dad had founded the team and they went to nationals.  After his dd dropped out of the high school, they returned as 'volunteers'.   In the case of the debate team, the other parents were rude to this homeschooling family possibly out of jealousy because the student won more awards than his enrolled teammates.   

I think it might have helped that I made it really clear that I would be available to volunteer to help and showed up every time. The groups that my son has been a part of have been quite large, so it isn't so obvious that there is a homeschooled student there since we don't advertise it. I think they have appreciated that my son also stays to help clean up while all the other kids vanish as soon as we are done. I figure that since they let us join, we needed to make it worth their while to have us. YKWIM? Kill them with kindness sort of strategy. 

Edited by calbear
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18 hours ago, seaben said:

 

Here's an example of something I did this fall. Its nothing super complicated. I used some google forms as well to have kids report back what they were doing and how it felt level-wise so I could adjust. I didn't use the MC trainer this year (its on my list for next) mostly because we had a really weird run of snow days that completely destroyed my scheduling prior to then.

 

Using AMC 8 is great because the difficulty is about the same as MathCounts.  In addition to old AMC 8's you may want to add in actual old MathCounts rounds, to add to your students' familiarity.  

For example, the Sprint Round, really is a sprint  for some students.  Students may need to add some efficiency to their approach to save time.  One example is to set your variable equal to the answer so that you won't need to add an extra step at the end.   Students won't have a full appreciation for how fast this exam is until they've tried a few.  

Target Round assumes the use of calculators, so your student will not only want to become familiar with how their calculator works, but also know when they should (and should not) use it to solve a given problem.   (AMCs forbid calculators.)

Team Round requires a bit of ... team work.  You can assign problems based on a student's expertise, but a standard strategy is to have one student start at #1 and go forward, a second student start at #5 and go backward, a third student start at #6 and go forward, and your strongest student begin with #10 and go backward.  You may also want to assign a student to be the team captain for this round:  s/he will make sure all answers get transferred from the scratch paper to the exam before time is called.  A little practice really helps here, and this round is what makes MC unique!

In our chapter, Countdown Round doesn't count for advancing to state, but check your chapter rules.  Nonetheless we also practice a CDR once a month, and I will Chromecast the PPT to a TV so it gives the students a fun game show feel.  It also trains students to use mental math and resist the urge to write too many figures since that slows you down.  

By the time of chapter competition, the students have grown closer and real friendships are formed, while important skills are developed.  I love being part of this and coaching these teams.  

Edited by daijobu

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Yes totally true.  That snippet was for AMC 8 prep in the fall. I only focus on one at a time (There's a limit to how much time anyone I coach can spend on extracurricular Math)  . But they translate really well so I just switch over source material after AMC 8 is done. In addition, for the OP, if you're using the Algebra book a good portion of the problems will pull from both contests and help out.

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