Counting on Success in MATHCOUNTS
01 Jun 2023
Tyler Erb, a DoD STEM Ambassador, champions an exciting math program for middle school students
MATHCOUNTS offers an exciting student enrichment program inviting students to explore concepts beyond the standard math curriculum. The competition series has many resources right at your fingertips. MATHCOUNTS supports educators new to math competitions or simply looking for more resources.
The following was written by Tyler Erb, a middle school math teacher and DoD STEM Ambassador. DoD STEM Ambassadors work with the Defense STEM Education Consortium (DSEC) to advance STEM outreach for students who are underrepresented in STEM and/or military connected. Erb was selected by MATHCOUNTS, a DSEC partner, as their DoD STEM ambassador for the 2021-2022 school year.
MATHCOUNTS is a very exciting math competition for middle school students. Students actively engage in problem-solving techniques that help them become stronger students mathematically and celebrate the pursuit of excellence. Students make lifelong friends not only at their school but also in their local community and in their state as they compete against each other throughout the years.
MATHCOUNTS has three different pathways for students: National Math Club, Math Video Challenge and Competition Series. My favorite is the Competition Series which has three different parts: Sprint Round, Target Round and Team Round, each with four levels of competition: School Round, Chapter Round, State Round and National Round.
- Sprint Round: The Sprint Round is a 30-question calculator inactive test that students take in 40 minutes.
- Target Round: The Target Round is four sets of two questions apiece with six minutes to answer each set. Each question counts as one point.
- Team Round: The Team Round gives four students 20 minutes to work together on 10 questions. Each question counts as two points.
- School Round: This is a free contest some coaches use to determine their team for the Chapter Rounds.
- Chapter Round: Twelve students from each school are allowed to advance to the Chapter Round, with four out of 12 required to be a member of the school team.
- State Round: The top three teams from the Chapter Round, as well as the top 5 individuals, compete to be the top in the state. The State Round also includes wildcard students who were the top students in State Chapters.
- National Round: The top four students in each state form a team to compete against other states.
The Target and Team Rounds allow students to use calculators. Final team scores can differ by as little as a quarter of a point, so every question counts! When teachers ask me how they can better prepare their students, I always recommend MATHCOUNTS for the many free resources to help prepare students and coaches.
MATHCOUNTS Minis are short videos that show how to work through problems using problem-solving techniques created by Richard Rusczyk, the author of the Art of Problem Solving book and website. Each video is accompanied by an activity sheet and extension activity with solutions. Each sheet includes a clearly labeled topic, level of difficulty and Common Core State Standard for ease of use as a weekly lesson plan. I have used them to differentiate instruction between my MATHCOUNTS and classroom students and assign topics according to student need. For students attempting to qualify for MATHCOUNTS Nationals, I combine multiple extensions from the activity sheets and make a list of hard problems. When I was just starting out I didn’t know the topics as well, so I often watched the videos to gain teaching expertise!
Do you have 15 minutes during school dismissal and want to gauge student skill levels? Do you want to practice chapter, state or national-level questions? All of the above? If so, MATHCOUNTS Trainer is the answer! One problem at a time, students can work their way up the levels of difficulty between MATHCOUNTS School, Chapter, State and National Rounds. Each problem provides a full explanation to help students learn from their mistakes. The best part about the Trainer is its tiered approach. If students have an Art of Problem Solving account (which I recommend) they can track their progress. Before the Chapter Round in February, I assign 10–15 chapter questions a night to put students in the right mindset. There is nothing more heartbreaking than missing out on first place as a team by half a point!
PAST COMPETITIONS AND OPLET
There is no better way to practice or determine your team than by assigning problems from MATHCOUNTS' OPLET program, an online database for math problems, or past released competitions. Even though there is a cost to use OPLET, it is a great resource for students. You can create worksheets to practice a specific skill or make mock Sprint, Target or Team Round questions with ease by pulling from old MATHCOUNTS School Handbook questions as well as past contests.
Overall, MATHCOUNTS is the most exciting program we run at the middle school level. I love that students can enter at a variety of points, and by working with this program from 6th through 8th grade, students develop a growth mindset. Seeing how much they learn, grow and mature over the years is one of my greatest joys of teaching.
About DoD STEM and Defense STEM Education Consortium
Defense STEM Education Consortium (DSEC) is a collaborative partnership of STEM-focused organizations dedicated to addressing and prioritizing our nation's STEM talent. DSEC aims to broaden STEM literacy and develop a diverse and agile workforce with the technical excellence to defend our nation. Through strategic investment in STEM education and outreach activities, the effort will provide students with more exposure to educational and career opportunities as well as DoD research. DSEC is led on behalf of DoD STEM by RTI International.
MATHCOUNTS' mission is to engage U.S. middle school students of all ability levels in math programs that build confidence, promote excellence and improve attitudes about math and problem-solving. Its nationwide activities cover competitions, after-school clubs and an annual video challenge that strive to make learning math fun. MATHCOUNTS’ role in DSEC is to expand club availability in areas close to DoD labs and military-connected students.