Math Wizards wrapping up season this week

SUBMITTED PHOTO One of Chatfield’s Math Wizards teams took first place in a meet. From left are Gavin Carr, Julia Goldsmith, Alaina Armstrong, Hudson Lueck and Will Boelter.
Gretchen Mensink Lovejoy

We’re off to see the Wizards, the wonderful Wizards of Math!

And that’s no Lion. 

The great and powerful kingdom of mathematics is where learning how to solve problems – ruby slippers or no – is done, and at Chatfield Elementary School is where you’ll find 20 to 23 kids who enjoy being challenged mathematically, related Chatfield Elementary School sixth grade instructor Paul Wagner, who is proud to share that the students who have participated in Math Wizards have done particularly well on their way through the Oz of solving number problems. He is co-coach of Math Wizards with Samantha Thorson, also on Chatfield Elementary School’s staff. Wagner leads sixth graders and Thorson the fifth.

There are two teams for each grade in fifth and sixth grade. There are 11 students in grade six with approximately five kids per team. Wagner has six girls and five boys on his sixth grade teams. Thorson has 12 students — six boys and six girls who “are all very competitive with each other,” she said. The makeup of her teams are switched around every meet.

“Basically, the kids take two individual tests, and then a team test with all scores added together. They have very high-level questions – some multi-step — as well as time limits,” Wagner said. “We have several practice tests, as well as computer programs such as IXL for them to use.” 

The teams have gone to two competitions so far and they were scheduled to attend their final competition Monday, Feb. 10, in Chatfield, so there is a total of three events. One of the sixth grade teams has placed third and first in the first two competitions.     

They solve math fact problems first in a five-minute math fact test. Then, they move on to two individual rounds and one team round, working on very difficult math problems covering a very wide variety of topics. 

“The kids have to think about how they can get the most points in the quickest amount of time,” Thorson said. “They have to try to solve very difficult problems while juggling how much time those questions will take them to answer. We practice once a week, working a lot of teamwork skills and team questions, as those are weighted the most at meets. I want the kids to have fun, so we have very active practices.”

Teachers monitor testing rooms or help correct tests, and parents help make Math Wizards meets possible through volunteerism and the important part of retrieving their kids to take them home after meets. The parents also pack food for the students for each meet.

Wagner enjoys watching the students compete.

“It’s just their concentration level and competitive nature, for some. They seem pretty happy to do this. It’s all volunteer and tryouts to make the team,” Wagner said. “They seem to enjoy it, enjoy being with their friends and are supporting of each other.” 

Thorson stated, “They’ve done well. Our fifth grade teams haven’t placed in their top two yet, but they’ve watched the sixth graders place and they are really motivated to get there. Three of the kids have placed in the top 10 at meets. The kids love seeing if their teammates can place. Even if the team doesn’t place, but one student places individually, the whole team is so excited for that one student, as they all know how difficult the tests were.”

Being in Math Wizards, Thorson related, is beneficial to the students inside and out of the classroom. 

“It challenges them to think outside the box and to listen to and value the opinions of others. I try to encourage being a team the best I can. We learn about being a great teammate and how we can improve that for the next meet,” she said. “They have a ton of fun. They’re always smiling when the competition ends. It’s fun to watch them discuss how hard it was and if they got the same answers as the rest of the team. The kids have a blast. They are hardworking, kind and have such a drive to improve themselves.”