Thursday, January 8, 2009

Odds and Evens: 1-8-09...An online math contest and other passing thoughts...

Many thoughts are running through my mind right now...

Projects I'd like to move forward, some changes in this blog, perhaps a different website altogether...

Working on the MathAnagram for the first quarter of 2009...
I've already selected the mathematician. Writing an anagram that has embedded clues is labor-intensive...

My reactions to a Commentary in this week's Education Week authored by the esteemed Steven Leinwand who is calling for a fascinating new concept heretofore unheard of -- a national K-12 Math Curriculum. I wish I had thought of that!

Thoughts about an online math competition for high schools...
Yes, that's right, I've already written the rough draft of the first six questions. I need to get the word out to high schools who might want to pilot this a few weeks from now. No cost for this first contest, but I would like to have at least a dozen schools express some interest in this before I formally announce it. If any of you reading this might be interested or know the math supervisor in your district, please spread the word. High schools can field one team of up to 6 students and will have a short window of time (from the moment I publish the questions) to submit their answers/solutions electronically. The contest will differ from others in that some questions may be multi-part and some parts will require explanation. Not just short answer! In other words, while there will be traditional contest problems, there will also be questions that reflect the investigations on this blog. Calculators will be permitted and a faculty sponsor would be needed to proctor the contest. Clearly there are major logistic problems (registering teams, different time zones, international participation, etc.). I need to work out many issues here. Questions will not at this time go past precalculus.
I might need to have my head examined for considering this since I will have to read and evaluate every one of the responses!
I may also need a separate website for all of this but I need to get a sense of interest out there before I jump in deeply. If this blog elicits few responses, I will probably have to disseminate this in some other way. I'd really appreciate suggestions/reactions to this both in the comments section and via email. As always you can email me at dmarain at geeeeemaillll dot com...

Have embarked on a collaboration with a University math professor who is developing problem-solving experiences for his students. Some of these problems will be based on investigations published in MathNotations...

So many wonderful math blogs out there not only from our regulars but new ones entering the math blogosphere every day. Exciting stuff...

11 comments:

Lynx said...

I teach Algebra in 8th grade. Would they be able to participate, or would they need more advanced knowledge?

Dave Marain said...

Great to hear from you Lynx and Happy 2009!

As of now, the flavor of the questions is decidedly
Algebra 2/Advanced Algebra. However at least one of the 6 questions is highly appropriate for middle schoolers requiring critical reading, careful reasoning and attention to detail. There will also be one geometry question but I do not consider it advanced. I don't want to give any more away but, again, there will be some questions or parts of questions in which students must show work and explain their methods. You can tell I'm not expecting hundreds of schools to be involved this first time around!

So to summarize: YES, middle schoolers may participate and enter as a separate team (only one per school). This does make sense in that some middle schoolers are taking Algebra I as early as 7th or even 6th grade! Regardless of how they do, it might be a worthwhile experience. It would be "cool" if they beat some of the high school teams!

I'm still trying to figure out the logistics. For this first contest I may accept last minute registrants provided they provide all the needed information. The bigger problem is deciding when to go live with the questions and when will the contest end. I'm thinking of having the questions appear at "exactly" 12 Noon EST and I will accept email submissions until 3 PM EST. This way, students in PST will see it at 9 AM and not be at a disadvantage. Since it would be prohibitive for schools to free up students for the full 3 hours, the team can work in shifts, perhaps one group of 3 could work for 90 minutes, then the second group can finish up. That's just one model. If a team sends in their solutions after the deadline, I will still look at it and respond when I am able to, however, their score would not be official. If fewer than 5 teams submit solutions by the time limit, I might extend the window, but I need to think that through. I am really looking for suggestions here!!

Anyway, if you're still interested, put together your team and I will post the required information for registration over the next week or so. I am hoping other teachers/advisors/supervisors/administrators will reply to me either by commenting or emailing me to let me know they are interested. Don't hesitate to ask more questions -- that would help me as well to crystallize this idea. Also, if any of you have participated in other online math contests, let me know. I could use all the advice I can get! FYI, I did run several of these in my school district with good results. That was on an individual basis only but there was considerable response. Assessing the detailed explanations was challenging but rewarding.

I am also open to participation from schools in other countries. I think there would be logistic problems with time zones, grade levels, language barriers, etc., but I feel strongly about this website being an international forum for anyone who loves math as I do! It's not exactly IMO or TIMSS but it might be a way to bring students from many countries together if only virtually!

jimmy said...

I am the Math Chair and Math Club sponsor at Chadwick School in Southern California, and we would be interested but it will depend on the date and exact time as to whether or not we are able to participate.

Dave Marain said...

Jim (did I get that right?),
Thanks for replying! Everything is tentative but I'm looking at Wed Jan 28th 12 Noon EST to go live. I will also suggest a couple of alternate dates but I really want to get suggestions from those like yourself who are interested.
Would the above date and time work for your school?

As I mentioned in my previous comment, not all 6 students need to work for the entire 3 hrs together but there needs to be some control over security. I wouldn't want students to be conferring with their friends or communicating online with students from other schools or in other time zones! That's why proctoring is needed for that time period. Participants would print the questions, work on the problems then at least one of them would be responsible for typing the solutions into an email. I was considering a 90-minute window but that may be difficult for some of the longer questions that require work and explanations (entering it from the keyboard can be a pain). I have to consider whether I will accept scanned solutions which makes sense but may be unfair to those who don't have access to that technology.

Please give me your thoughts and let me know if this might work for you. I need to have an exchange of ideas for this to work!

Also, pls share this with schools in your area that may not be aware of this blog.

jimmy said...

Dave,

Unfortunately that day does not work for us as it is the first of our 3-day exam week. I would only be able to get students to work on it if they did not have an exam... and even then they will most likely be studying.

Also, it would be difficult for us, given our normal school day, to go from 9am to 12noon (PST), but it is doable. I have had students participate in such contests before, but it means getting them out of classes.

Kerry King said...

Hello-

I coach the Math Team at Arcadia High School (Arcadia, CA). We're always looking for fun and interesting competitions, so please keep us up to date on what you create.

The 28th is the first day of finals for us, so we can't participate. Also, it's likely that I can't get kids out of class (or lose my own class time) for math competitions. We meet after school on Wednesdays (3 pm to 4:30 pm our time), so competitions have to fit into that time frame.

Good luck!

Dave Marain said...

Hi Kerry!
Thanks for the good wishes and I do appreciate your interest. As this evolves, it seems that expecting all submissions to meet a narrow deadline is unrealistic given so many different time constraints in so many districts. Here's where my thinking is at this moment (and it will continue to change over the next week or so!):

(1) I may simply go live with these questions at 8 AM EST on some date to be determined. As long as the students are monitored and the sponsor "signs off" electronically that rules were followed, this should be fine. After all, this is just the first of hopefully several contests and it's not like this is coming from Lincoln Nebraska, home of AMC!

(2) I really don't think 3 hrs are required for 6 questions. Even with a couple of questions that have more than one part or require explanation, 90 minutes should be reasonable, particularly when a team effort is involved (a team competition is very different from individual). So at this point I'm going to set a 90 min time limit.

(3) The date will be problematic since one cannot please all districts. I know that some districts in NJ run their midterm or exam week same as CA and some the week earlier. I won't decide this until I hear from several more districts. My wife suggested I run this on more than one day but that would mean developing more questions. Eventually, I will have enough questions to be flexible but it did take me awhile to write these first six and I'm still revising them!

Thanks for your support and please spread the word to your friends in other districts.

Sean Henderson said...

Dave,
I will talk with the other math teacher here at Solomon High, but I think it would be an interesting experience for some of our students. Several are on Quiz Bowl and will also be taking the national Trig*STAR test here in February or Math. Getting a math-specific contest of sorts under their belt would definitely be helpful for them and I'm sure that we've got students who should be more than capable of doing well.

Lynx said...

I would be interested (I don't know if the kids would be yet - still need to talk to them.) As far as time goes, I would need a timeframe that works for after school on the west coast. There's no way I'd be able to pull kids from classes. If it works out, and I have interested kids, I'd love to participate.

Dave Marain said...

Lynx,
I really want this to work for as many schools as possible so I am continuing to re-design the plan of delivery and submission of the contest.

I certainly do not want the logistics of the contest to become more important than the mathematical challenge and benefits of the questions themselves.

Here's what I am now thinking...

Once I decide on an appropriate date (trying to avoid exams, AMC and other major events within reason), I'm considering an alternative to displaying the questions on this blog:

I may simply email the contest to all registered schools at the same time on that date, probably very early in the AM (EST). The faculty sponsor would administer the contest in a 90-min time period at any time during that day. Students would still have to email back to me their solutions within the 90-minute block of time as verified by their sponsor. I will accept submissions probably until some specified time in the evening which would allow schools to administer the test before, during or afterschool for the greatest flexibility.

I'd really appreciate readers' thoughts on this alternate plan.

Choosing a date is still problematic but once I decide I will have to stick to it.

Sean, thank you for your interest.
Some time next week, I will post a registration form or, more likely, email it to sponsors who indicate their interest.

Lynx said...

That seems very workable, Dave. Now, I just need to get a team together - 6 students you say? I'm sure it can be done! I'll shoot you an email so you'll have mine (I can't imagine you still have it from the mathematician contests I entered almost a year ago.)