Thursday, August 3, 2017

Competition - Good or Bad

Bench Press, Fight, Arm Wrestling I subscribe to a daily email which gives information on things happening in the world in regard to teaching mathematics.

Today, I got one that kind of surprised me where they say competition is a good way for students to improve their math skills.

I know, the first thing popping into your mind are those timed math fact tests where everyone tries to get the maximum number of problems correct in the least amount of time.

This is not what the author is talking about. The author is talking about those math competitions with unique problems designed to test a student's knowledge to solve problems.

Problems found in the American Mathematics Competition, Math Counts, or Math Olympiad can change a student's life.  It provides a way for students to discover their talents because these problems are not run of the mill.  They require thought and the ability to discover a way to solve problems.

Most of the problems presented require more than plug numbers into a formula.  They require students to take apart the information, change it into a more usable form so the problem could be solved.  These problems require higher level thinking to solve.

These problems require students to "read" the information in great detail so they know exactly what they have, what they have to find, and approach its solution from a variety of angles before settling on the correct one.  It also requires they check their work for calculation errors and reasonableness.

Although, students can win and eventually head off to international locals to compete with others, who says we cannot include problems from these competitions in our daily or weekly instruction?  I know a teacher who used to post weekly problems for students to solve.  If they successfully solved the problem, they earned additional points.  She'd then post the solution and a new problem. 

One way to find these problems is to search for previous competitions.  Many include the answer so students could copy the answer down but if you ask for them to explain the reasoning behind each step, they have to think about it and it shows their understanding.

I'm in Iceland, so I'll be posting in the evenings here which means you'll see this around mid day.  Let me know what you think about this.  Have a good day.