Elementary students become math masters during WMU Math Challenge

WMU professors pose with the winning fifth grade class, the principal, and "math" parents at Moorsbridge Elementary

WMU professors Bennett, Dudek and Lo award Sara Schuemann's class the trophy for fifth grade.

Young math buffs from Moorsbridge Elementary School got to test their problem-solving skills during the 2018 WMU Math Challenge, held in April at the school. Students in grades 2-5 gathered to test their mathematical acumen and compete for a chance to be the “winning” class during the competition.

WMU mathematics faculty members are now in their second year of co-hosting the event with Moorsbridge teachers and parents. Drs. Patrick Bennett, Andrzej Dudek and Jane-Jane Lo spent multiple days in the elementary school classrooms, presenting complex math problems and games for the students to solve.

Each grade received two problems that focused on different mathematics concepts and problem-solving skills. “Having a math event that is rich and open to all students is very unique and rare,” Lo says.

WMU Challenges display of trophies in a display caseSecond and third grade classes competed against one another, as did fourth and fifth grade classes. Each class analyzed the problems, drew conclusions and presented their answers. The competition culminated with an award ceremony and a chance for the WMU faculty to present trophies to the participating classes.

Bennett says the event is intended to not only make math fun for students, but to drive their curiosity about the subject. “We want them to see that math is more than what they think it is,” he says. “At this point in their lives they might think math is just adding numbers together. We have some things that aren’t really numerical but are more like mathematical games. We want the students to see that math is fun and also give them a good impression of it.”

Dudek added that the problems students solve are particularly challenging and push them to think critically about the solutions. “These are not easy problems,” he says. “Sometimes we (the faculty) don’t have the answers yet. We put them in front of the students and let them solve for us.”

Organizing this year’s math challenge was a joint effort between the WMU Department of Mathematics and Moorsbridge Elementary, with special help from parents Angie Schultz and Joe Keithley, and Principal Lori Kirshman.

For more information on the competition, contact the Department of Mathematics at (269) 387-4510 or visit wmich.edu/math.

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