Lion's Eye Favorite: Exeter Math Club Debuts Middle School Math Competition
August 17, 2010
Solving problems is a way of life for Exeter's Math Club. In addition to advanced math classes and frequent club events, they also attend regional and national math competitions during the school year, starting in November with the Mandelbrot Competition, and continuing through spring and summer. Success can lead all the way to the select 6-member U.S. high school team for the International Mathematical Olympiad, as it did in July 2007 for Sherry Gong '07.
Exeter's Math Club decided to put their problem-solving expertise, enthusiasm and energy to good work this January by launching their own middle school math competition, Exeter Math Club Competition (EMC2).
"We wanted to start this competition because it was a good opportunity to help enrich the mathematics community that got us to where we are," explains David '10, co-director of EMC2, who saw few competitions for middle schools in New England.
In just a few months, the club presented a competition proposal to Exeter faculty, developed a website to communicate with interested middle schools, wrote a suite of problems guaranteed to keep avid mathematicians busy for 2.3 hours, and developed electronic registration, grading and scoring systems.
2nd-place finisher in the national Math Prize for Girls in December, member of the U.S. 2009 team for the China Girls Math Olympiad, and one of 3 head problem writers for EMC2. The challenge had elements of fun, as club members – used to being competitors – became competition leaders. "I enjoyed the problem-writing sessions," says Spencer '12, another head problem writer, "it was quite a different experience from solving questions.""We started writing problems in late fall of 2009, so it was a challenge to get all the tests written, proofread and test-solved on time," says Joy '11,
And, of course, there was the question of expectations – how would the middle schoolers perform? "The greatest difficulty in writing the problems was to avoid a question that would give a large advantage to experienced students," explains Spencer. "We tried to avoid questions that would be trivial if you had learned a concept."
To get the word out, Math Club members contacted middle schools within a 2-hour drive of Exeter. They held their breath until the last day of registration when the number of registered teams doubled. Teams came from Massachusetts – Lexington, Deerfield, Framingham, Newton and Pepperell – and New Hampshire.
EMC2 debuted on January 30 with 16 teams representing a total of 64 entrants. Each entrant participated in 2 individual rounds, followed by a team round, and the final "guts" face-off, "a fun, fast-paced team round where 24 problems are given in sets of four, and the grading takes place in real time as each team turns in a set of four problems and receives the next set of four," according to the EMC2 website. Individual and team rounds took place in math classrooms. The ultimate guts round and the awarding of prizes were held in the Phelps Academy Center Forum.
Jonas Clarke Middle School from Lexington, MA, was the top overall scorer. For more information on results, see the EMC2 website…
As with most first-time events, EMC2 had some unanticipated aspects. "I was surprised by the point spread of the final results, since the team scores ranged from about 2/30ths to 2/3rds of the total possible points," explains Joy. "On the second-to-last quadruplet of the guts round, we wrote the 4 questions as a loop (i.e., the answer to each question depends on the answer to at least one other question of the 4). A couple of teams managed to guess one answer right, but we had one team that got all 4, which was really cool and unexpected."
The club is looking forward to next year's EMC2 as it builds on this year's success. "The feedback from the coaches has been quite positive from the majority," explains David. "Almost everybody we talked to after the competition commented on the smoothness with which the event was run – everything was on time and without any major hiccups, a feat that I have yet to see in any other competition in my 8 years of math competing."
One thing David won't forget is the complexity of such a project. "I've learned a lot about organizing large-scale endeavors, such as the importance of small, motivated task groups, and the timing needed to make sure everything comes on time," he says. "Plus, it was a good way to take a look at a competition from the hoster's side – it's far more difficult to write a good math problem than to solve one!"
Interested in learning more?
Read about Exeter's Math Department…
Check out Exeter's 2nd-place finish in the 2009 ARML competition and 1st-place in the 2007 ARML competition…
Read how Sherry Gong was selected for the U.S. IMO and the U.S. team at the China Girls Mathematical Olympiad in 2007…
Lion's note: this article first appeared on March 1, 2010.