Math competition engages MFL MarMac students in subject

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(Graphic courtesy of MFL MarMac Community School)

By Audrey Posten, Times-Register


MFL MarMac seventh and eighth graders are participating in math competitions for the first time this school year. Teacher Dale Hanson hopes the events will help students better understand material and have some fun doing it.


The competitions—held in Prairie du Chien, Wis., in December and February—are organized through the non-profit MATHCOUNTS, which includes 3M as one of its national sponsors. Employees from the 3M facility in Prairie du Chien serve as volunteer coaches at MFL MarMac as well as Bluff View, Prairie Catholic and Wauzeka-Steuben schools.


Hanson was first introduced to MATHCOUNTS while previously teaching in Prairie du Chien. In his second year at MFL MarMac—and first teaching math with the district—he wanted to give it a try on this side of the river.


MFL MarMac now has 30 to 35 participants.


“I opened it up to all my eighth graders and I’ve got an advanced group of seventh graders,” Hanson said. “I have an Algebra I group and then I have two pre-Algebra groups of eighth graders.”


Students have prepared for competition weekly under the guidance of Hanson and 3M engineer Andrew Zeeh, a 2015 MFL MarMac graduate.


Zeeh started volunteering a year ago at Bluff View, and was happy to transition to MFL MarMac.


“I wanted to give back to the community I grew up in and this seemed like a good way to do that,” he said.


Hanson and Zeeh work together early in the week to determine a set of practice problems, then answer questions and guide students Friday mornings as they work through that week’s activity.


“I help the students by giving clues or advise on how to best solve a problem. There are some problems that are new to the students, so a new equation or method might need to be taught,” Zeeh explained. “Additionally, I coach on how to efficiently work through problems to prepare for December’s competition.”


According to Hanson, some of the math is fairly basic. Some problems allow calculators and others do not.


“For example, this is a question about volume of a cube,” he said, glancing over a practice sheet. “This one is comparing people and how old they are, so it’s really Algebraic. Here’s another one that’s combining like terms—Algebra. We’ve got some that are adding and subtracting positive integers, slope of a line, working with fractions and percents, circumference of a circle. Most of the questions are kind of like a story—you have to read something—or they’re an application-type problem.”


“One of the things I like about it is some of the time it will preview a skill we’re going to be doing, and other times it will reinforce something we should know. It fits into the eighth grade curriculum pretty well,” he continued.


Zeeh enjoys the students’ willingness to learn. 


“It can be frustrating working through problems in a constrained time period along with problems that might be new, but the students aren’t afraid to ask questions and work through the problems,” he shared.


The hard work paid off. At the competition earlier this month, MFL MarMac’s “Terrific Turtles” team of Parker Muras, Brayden Hoth and Trace Moser placed first out of 19 teams from different schools. The team of Nora Griffith, Taryn Moser, Charlotte Koether and Arika Moreland placed second. MFL MarMac also had the fourth, fifth, seventh and ninth place teams. The school’s top individual overall winners were Veda Torkelson and Trace Moser.


Winners were based on three rounds of competition: an individual round with no calculators, an individual round with calculators and a team round. 


“Questions have different point values, so harder questions have more points,” Hanson said. “When everything is tallied up, whatever team has the highest score wins. Then they take the top students, usually two kids from each school, and they go head to head with problems.”


While some students were uneasy about competing, it was exciting for others, said Hanson.


“This group of kids, a lot are very interested in doing well,” he noted.


Zeeh believes the competition aspect of MATHCOUNTS can make the subject more enjoyable.


“This program involves a lot of problem solving rather than lecture, which keeps everyone engaged. The weekly treats also seem to keep the students energized,” he joked.


Student Veda Torkelson agreed snacks are a plus, but said learning about different areas of math has been helpful in day-to-day class. 


“I used to not be able to divide fractions that well, but after MATHCOUNTS, now I know how to better,” added Emma Niedzjko. 


Nora Griffith, too, can see personal growth.


“It’s a little tricky, but I feel I’ve improved over time with it,” she said. 


That’s Hanson’s goal through MATHCOUNTS. He often lectures about the difference between doing math and learning math.


“In order to actually learn the math, you have to try to understand it and not just do it. I’m trying to get more learners. Kids who really understand the material. And I think this is something that can help me do that,” Hanson said. “I think I’m making progress with the kids, and most are buying into what I’m trying to accomplish. It feels pretty good.”

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