Friday, January 29, 1999
Carlisle students excel in math
In the Carlisle Middle School, as in life, math is everywhere. Not just a required course, math is also a popular extracurricular activity, and contests and special exams have resulted in high honors reflecting on the school's overall math program.
Last year, the middle school was the top-scoring school in New England on the American Junior High Math Exam, a test given to seventh- and eighth-graders across the nation, reported Rob Quaden, director of the middle school math program. On this year's exam, given in November, while the national rankings have not yet been compiled, eighth-grader Justin Hendrickson scored 24 out of a possible 25, a result that Quaden deemed almost impossible. Several other students also did quite well. The test is a 45-minute multiple choice exam that tests "mostly for insight," said Quaden. "In order to do well," Quaden continued, "students must use problem-solving techniques discussed in class and concentrate very hard."
For students who really like math, the school also offers optional math opportunities. Quaden described MathCounts, for example, as the most advanced national competition for middle schoolers. MathCounts is built into the curriculum so that high aptitude students have the option of doing the MathCounts problems instead of regular homework. The difference, according to Quaden, is that the regular classwork presents increasingly more difficult problems to practice strategies learned in class, while the MathCounts problems require insights to determine which strategies apply to the problem.
Quaden estimated that over 20 eighth-graders and about 15 seventh-graders take part in this program, evenly divided between girls and boys. Quaden meets with these students for 40 minutes every other week. An in-school competition is in process now to choose a four-person team to compete in the regionals in February.
For the students who want to give up their recess and lunch periods once a week, there is Math League, in which the students test their math wits against other area schools five times a year. This year about 50 sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders participate in Math League. The groundwork for this degree of interest in math is laid in elementary school, where all students are introduced to Continental Math League (CML) questions. These are broad-ranging questions that require different strategies for coming up with the right answer, so the tests are often tackled in cooperative learning groups.
What accounts for the popularity of the math contests at the middle school level? There is definitely a social aspect to the competitions. "It's like a party out there sometimes," observed Quaden, and the staff looks to reinforce the students in a positive way. Quaden described the "donut zone" in which a student wins a donut if he or she scores a certain number of points or improves a certain amount. "The purpose is not necessarily the competitive aspect. We generally try to play that down because it can be difficult for the kids," said Quaden. "Our attitude is not let's see what the school's score can be but let's try to do our best."
© 1999 The Carlisle Mosquito