M.A.T.H. Bowl

Friday, February 25, 2011
Central Elementary M.A.T.H. team members James Jones, Lois Cheatham and Olivia Boler await an answer at a recent M.A.T.H. bowl competition. Local teams will gather at Central Elementary for the state competition on March 10.

GREENCASTLE -- What percentage of 140 is 56?

Or maybe we should try this one: How many strips of wallpaper 4/45 meter long can be cut from a strip 2/5 meter long?

Which is greater: 12 * 1/4 or 12 1/4?

Anyone know what a composite number is?

These are just a few of the things asked of local fourth, fifth and sixth graders as part of the M.A.T.H. (Math Academic Teams for Hoosiers) Bowl competition.

Six county teams got together on Feb. 16 at Tzouanakis Intermediate School for the 2011 Putnam County M.A.T.H. Bowl Competition, but the real date circled on the calendar is March 10, when teams from across the state will gather at dozens of host sites for the official competition.

Fourteen teams, including the six teams from the Greencastle, North Putnam and South Putnam districts will gather at South Putnam's Central Elementary.

At the county competition, Tzouanakis placed first with 23 of 28 right answers, followed by Roachdale, South Putnam Central, Fillmore, Reelsville and Bainbridge.

The state competition will be TZ's chance to defend last year's Class 3 state championship. For coach Brad Phillips, though, it isn't about last year or even the success his teams have had for several years.

"Since you lose so many kids every year, it's always new," Phillips said. "I think we've just been fortunate to have kids come through who just enjoy math."

In last year's competition, TZ went 27 for 28 on correct answers. At last week's county, they had 23, so they are still doing quite well. He and assistant coach Jennifer Schlatter are eager to see what the next competition brings.

"We'll wait and see how it works out here in March," he said.

Coaching these teams is about a whole lot more than computation. Every coach talks about how, even more than simple math skills, the kids need to be good problem solvers. It's a multiple choice format, so they can generally quickly eliminate one or two obviously bad answers. It translates into what teachers sometimes call "good test taking."

There's also the matter of making it a challenge across the board. Depending on exactly when a school system promotes to middle school or junior high, some teams feature fourth and fifth graders (like TZ and and the two North Putnam schools) while others can also have sixth graders (like the South Putnam Schools.)

In order to make it challenging for even advanced sixth graders, some of the questions are at a seventh grade level. This means some of the fourth graders are being asked questions three years over their heads.

"When you consider there are sixth graders in this competition, they're going to have to make it hard for sixth graders," Roachdale coach Linda Jones said. "So I think they really use, probably up to about seventh grade standards."

"I try to get fifth graders on every squad because I'm thinking maybe some question will be something a fifth grader has had and a fourth grader has not," Bainbridge coach Stacey Parent said. Parent shares coaching duties with Becky Cook.

"Some are things they have had and some are things above and beyond," Parent added.

The format of the actual competition also adds an additional challenge for coaches. There are four rounds of seven questions each, and three kids compete at a time. During each round, two of the three kids can be subbed out. The captain, who writes down each answer, must remain for the entire round.

In sports terms, it's about finding kids who work well together and compliment one another's strengths and weaknesses. The captain serves a sort of point guard role, ultimately making the decisions.

The county competition serves as a practice run, after which those lineups can be shuffled.

"We weren't overly excited about their performance," Parent said. "We know they can do better. So now we have to figure out where our weaknesses are, maybe reshuffle some teams."

It's also a chance to get rid of some jitters.

"The kids are nervous -- especially the fourth graders -- and I think it takes some of the stress out of it for them. It's very nice of Tzouanakis to host this every year," Jones said.

Jones was overjoyed with her team's performance. Roachdale, is a small school and has only fourth and fifth graders. This means they compete in Class 4, the lowest level.

"In reality, we won't even compete against any of the other county schools at the competition. So the fact that they finished second is amazing," Jones said.

Other county schools were also excited about what they saw.

"I was very pleased with our competition performance," Fillmore coach Evonne Canary said. "We have several new members, and they did a great job. However, we did see some areas that we need to focus on. The actual competition will be very competitive; it always is. The main thing is that we as a team come to do our best."

Again and again, the coaches at all the schools talk about the dedication their students show. With other competitions such as Spell Bowl taking place in the fall, they don't usually start thinking much about the M.A.T.H. Bowl until December, with team selections.

After Christmas break, the kids have their nose to the grindstone with practices. Central coaches Amy Cassida and Betty McGill are happy with the work they've seen out of this year's team.

"The students put a lot of time into learning new skills for M.A.T.H. team, especially the fifth graders who haven't learned much of what is covered. The sixth graders often get the opportunity to help teach them this new material," Cassida said.

Philips said there's a balance to find between having fun and working hard.

"We make it as fun as possible," Phillips said. "I don't want them to look at it as a chore."

On the flip side, it takes a lot of hard work in practice.

"For that hour they're here, they're working on math," he said.

Parent expressed a similar sentiment. For all the sports comparisons that might be made, these kids aren't burning energy at the end of the day -- they're doing more work.

"The bottom of the line is, they're still sitting at their seats taking on more academic work. That's a testament to the kinds of kids they are to even make that commitment to us," Parent said.

The commitment pays off in the classroom too.

"Every student that participates on the M.A.T.H. team, they have all scored pass plus on their ISTEP the next year," Parent said. "That added benefit of receiving that extra boost in math is in itself an incentive to be on the team."

View 1 comment
Note: The nature of the Internet makes it impractical for our staff to review every comment. Please note that those who post comments on this website may do so using a screen name, which may or may not reflect a website user's actual name. Readers should be careful not to assign comments to real people who may have names similar to screen names. Refrain from obscenity in your comments, and to keep discussions civil, don't say anything in a way your grandmother would be ashamed to read.
  • This great...so many people struggle with math. Good job to the kids and the staff.

    -- Posted by dcsaiht on Fri, Feb 25, 2011, at 9:36 AM
Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: