Longview students tackle story problems during Math Olympiad
Longview students learn math techniques from their Principal Chad Sanders in preparation for a Math Olympiad competition. (Julie Slama/City Journals)
Longview fifth-grader Josie Richardson was asked to join her school’s Math Olympiad team after scoring well on her standardized math test last year.
“Math is my favorite as it is logical and easy to do,” she said. “But with the Math Olympiad tests, there’s five questions that are hard and really challenge you.”
Josie and 59 fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders take five 30-minute, five-question tests during the school year that center on story problems, Principal Chad Sanders said. To prepare for the tests, Sanders and special education teacher Teri Singleton hold sessions showing students methods to solve story problems.
“We teach them math skills and then, they can apply them to solve higher-level story problems,” Sanders said. “Math Olympiad gives students a chance to learn more and apply what they’ve learned.”
Longview has two teams as only 35 students are allowed on a team. Through the five competitions, students can receive awards for both individual performances as well as team competition scores. Individuals can receive Math Olympiad embroidered patches if they are among the top 50 percent and a silver Math Olympiad pin if they are in the top 10 percent. If the students are in the top two percent, they receive a gold pin and the highest scoring member on each team receives a trophy. Students who have perfect scores in all five competitions receive a bronze medallion.
With team scores, the top 20 percent of the teams receives a certificate. The top 10 percent will receive a plaque.
“Last year, I had a small group of students who I helped, coming up with my own questions. Now, we can use old Math Olympiad tests and study materials to help students learn. If they miss a question, we go over it together so they can learn from it,” Sanders said.
An example of a typical math problem is: a digital clock shows 2:35. This is the first time after midnight when all three digits are different prime numbers. What is the last time before noon when all three digits on the clock are different prime numbers?
After solving it, students may then figure out how many times between midnight and noon will the digits be three different primes.
In the first competition, in November, Sanders said that Longview’s teams did “substantially better” than other teams.
“I was surprised and proud of our students. The second and third competitions, the tests looked like college math. This is really pushing and challenging the kids. Our kids are excelling in math and applying the skills they are learning in class and to more in-depth material,” he said.
The last test will be given in March. About 6,000 teams from more than 30 countries compete in the Math Olympiad.
Math Olympiad was created in 1977 and is designed to not only introduce new mathematical concepts, but also to teach major strategies for problem solving. The website also states it’s designed to strengthen mathematical intuition, creativity and ingenuity as well as to stimulate enthusiasm and a love for mathematics and provide satisfaction and joy of meeting challenges.
Sixth-grader Matthew Uvario said that he finds the experience fun.
“Mr. Sanders is really fun when he shows us different ways to solve problems,” Matthew said. “He uses real-life situations and includes us in the problems so we pay attention and learn. It has actually helped me build upon the formulas I’ve learned so it makes it easier when I take tests. It’s fun to figure it all out.”