Mathletes in training: Area students use math skills in ‘Math-a-rama’ competition

Published 8:00 am Friday, March 7, 2014


Kincheloe fifth graders Cameron Garner (left) and Jose Medina work on determining the mean and medium of a group of numbers. (Leader photo/TED YOAKUM)

What do you see twice in a week, once in a year, but never in a day?

365.3 + 289.7 x 3 ÷ 655, of course.

A group of fourth-grade students were tasked with finding out the answer to this and 11 other riddles, using math, not logic, to find the answer. The fledging mathematicians, grouped in teams of five, raced to punch out a series of equations into calculators, with the solution spelling out the “word” of the correct answer when the device was flipped upside down.

This creative exercise was one of several mathematical competitions held during the 2014 Math-a-Rama, hosted by Southwestern Michigan College Thursday morning. The event was the third leg of the academic triathlon sponsored by the Lewis-Cass ISD for third through fifth-grade students with Dowagiac, Cassopolis and Edwardsburg schools.

From 9 a.m. to 1:45 p.m., 216 students were split into groups based on their grade, with each group taking on three challenges that tested their calculation, problem solving and geometry skills. Each student was placed in a squad of five other classmates, facing off against other teams to complete each exercise the fastest.

“We try to make it fun for the kids, while having them learn some things as well,” said Candy Cooper, one of the organizers of the Math-a-Rama.

The ISD has organized the Math-a-Rama for 26 years. Despite the competitive nature of the events, the event, like the district’s Science Olympiad and Spelling Bee, is more focused on advancing studies over awarding individual accomplishments.

“It helps prepare the students for more intense regional competitions when they get older,” Cooper said.

In Room 1611, Joan Potter, a Cassopolis’s Sam Adams Elementary teacher, oversaw a group of third-grade students who raced to assemble the most animal-shaped tangram geometry puzzles within a 40-minute time period. A group of Edwardsburg students won the competition during the first time period, successfully completing 10 out of 15 puzzles.

Next-door, fifth-grade teams worked together to solve story-based math problems, under the supervision of Sister-Lakes teacher Alicia Strout.

Upstairs another batch of fifth-grade students learned about ratios, proportions and statistics. While such lessons can usually be rather dull to the average 10 year-old, Cassopolis educator Felomina Patton spiced up the activity up by having students sort a bag of jellybeans.

“It’s always good to have things that kids can manipulate,” Patton said. “If they can see it and feel it, they really get into it.”

Patton has participated in the Math-a-Rama for 14 years, and is always heartened to see the enthusiastic response the children show during the exercises, she said.

“It’s a lot of fun for me too,” she said. “I just love math.”

Perhaps the most exciting part of the event was the annual scavenger hunt, where the teams race across SMC’s campus to discover and count various elements of the college, such as the number of steps in front of the library or the number of pillars located in front of one of the buildings. The groups then add, subtract and multiply these numbers in a particular order before submitting their answers.

“We redo the scavenger hunt every year in order to mix things up for the students who were here in the past,” said Lisa Jacobson, a volunteer at the event. “We definitely had to redo it this year because of all the snow that is covering things up around campus.”