Math Club Materials: academic programs and competitions

Let’s say you do decide to hold competitions in your math club. What are your options? Much of this depends on the grade level of your students. I will describe our experience with the various competition programs in which we have engaged.

We started our students in math competitions when they were in 4th grade. For 4th and 5th graders, we’ve had a good experience with Noetic Learning and Math Olympiads for Elementary Schools (MOEMS). Both of these programs are a good place to start if you are new to running a math club, and you don’t know where to begin (this is where I was two years ago). They give problems on a variety of topics that are age and grade appropriate. Also, I found the Noetic test to be a good diagnostic to assess the math levels of our students, and to determine which topics merit more attention.

The two programs have very different testing formats, which serves the students well. Some children do better with longer tests, while others like tests with fewer questions. Noetic has two 40 minute tests per school year, each with 20 problems. These longer tests give students sufficient choice of problems that they can usually find some they can do. For those students who have trouble focusing for 40 minutes (remember, we’re dealing with 4th and 5th graders!), MOEMS has a series of 5 tests per school year, each with 5 problems for which the students get 30 minutes. Some of our kids really took well to this shorter test. Both Noetic and MOEMS are free answer tests– as opposed to multiple choice.

For students in 6th-8th grade, I highly recommend the AMC8 and MATHCOUNTS. Both programs offer very high quality problems and learning materials associated with them. Much of the material they cover overlaps, and both programs offer problems graded by difficulty. That way there is a suitable challenge for each of your students, no matter how widely their math levels vary. AMC8 is a multiple choice test, and any student who is in grade 8 or under can take it. Although it is generally meant for middle schoolers, it is also appropriate for high performing 5th and even 4th graders.

MATHCOUNTS holds a distinct place among all the programs described so far because it offers elements of building a community and a system of training. Unlike the other programs, MATHCOUNTS is open to participation only by 6th, 7th, and 8th graders. In that way, it an institution somewhat similar to 6th grade camp– a sort of “club” exclusively for middle school students. The names of the problem sets offered by MATHCOUNTS will ring a bell for anyone who has ever participated in an athletic activity. There are Warm-Ups, Workouts, and Stretches. This sequence of training works well to gradually engage the minds of the students. They start out with relatively simple 1-step problems, and work their way up to multi-step problems involving several concepts simultaneously. Although each school is allowed to send a team of just 10 students to the Chapter competition, the “work out” routine is highly beneficial for all the students.

MATHCOUNTS’ philosophy is beautifully embodied by their tagline, which would make a great slogan for any math club:

Some students love math. Other students fear math. MATHCOUNTS is the place for both.

Oh, and if you want to know the answer to the MATHCOUNTS problem above, you can find it on p. 2 of this document.

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