Inside SFS

Mathletes Go For the Gold

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The 5th-8th Grade Math Olympiad team has just finished their first season, with pride and newfound problem-solving skills.

By Melissa Holman-Kursky, Communications & Marketing Manager

“When you’re up against a problem you’ve never seen, and have no context for it, you have to have some skills for how to approach it. When you break things down, they become so much less intimidating,” explains Anne Federwisch, 7th and 8th Grade Math Teacher.

Important life lessons? Absolutely, and ones being actively fostered by Federwisch’s Math Olympiad team, new to SFS this year. Math Olympiad teams function as part of a larger nonprofit organization, which provides opportunities for children to engage in meaningful mathematical activities, with the goals of “developing enthusiasm for problem solving and mathematics; deepening the understanding of mathematical concepts and strengthening the ability to use these concepts; considering concepts that they might not otherwise encounter; enriching experiences in intellectually stimulating and significant mental activities; and building a stronger foundation for assessments and for future mathematics studies” (MOEMS®, 2019).

The SFS Math Olympiad team is currently comprised of students in 5th-8th Grades and has been meeting weekly and competing in monthly contests since the fall. “We were just trying to have a space where we can celebrate problem-solving, problem-solving techniques, and to talk about math,” Federwisch says. “These problems are so rich and difficult – tough to analyze, not everyday problems – and once you’ve done a lot of them, you get better at knowing how to break them down. You start to recognize patterns and approaches, so you know how to approach other kinds of problems. Could I draw a picture? Could I look at it another way? These are strategies that go beyond math.”

The Math Olympiad team just had their last contest, and soon will find out how they fared against other teams. They’ve chosen to continue meeting as a group during the spring and are going on to explore some topics in more depth and try out a new skill: teaching each other! “We’re calling it ‘things I wish I knew,’” Federwisch says. “Ways of remembering important vocabulary, like differentiating between integers and whole numbers; tricks for calculating sets of numbers; divisibility rules….helping to build each other’s skills up by sharing things that helped us throughout the process.”

Federwisch notes that although the monthly contests were completed individually, there’s been a strong sense of collegiality and celebration throughout. “We’ve been focused on just doing the best we can,” she says. “Kids are no longer afraid of the time constraints; they say, ‘I’m going to get the most done in 30 minutes that I can.’ It’s rare to get a perfect score (5), and getting any score is difficult – if someone gets a 1, we’re celebrating! There’s a sense of accomplishment, not failure; here, it’s all about the journey.”

Posted March 19, 2019