Ready! Set! Compete!

Ready! Set! Compete!

Math and science competitions offer Gwinnett students at all levels a host of opportunities to flex their mental muscles. Click on the links below to learn more about just a few of the math, science, and problem-solving competitions in which Gwinnett students excel:

Witzzle Pro
Witzzle Pro is a math game that reinforces basic facts, number sense, and the operations of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. At elementary schools around the county, Witzzle Pro is used in the classroom and with clubs before and after school. Top players from Gwinnett schools will compete in a countywide Witzzle Pro Tournament on May 3 at Louise Radloff MS.

World Math Day

Taylor mathletes compete in online, real-time contests with children around the world.
High-achieving math students from K.E. Taylor Elementary and Five Forks Middle helped set a world record on World Math Day, celebrated March 5. The students went head-to-head in real-time in 60-second math matches with students from around the world, solving grade-appropriate, mental math problems online.

Students solved as many as 30 problems in the minute-long tests. (Examples might include “16 multiplied by 9” and “741 divided by 3.”) In preparing for the event, these mathletes practiced in class and at home with online sessions.

For the 2008 event, about 750,000 students (ages 5 to 18) from 20,000-plus schools in more than 100 countries answered a total of 182,455,169 math problems during the 24-hour competition, quickly surpassing the goal of 50 million math problems and last year’s record of just 38 million problems. While students were competing against students in other countries, they also were attempting to beat their personal best, say teachers. One Taylor student wrote in a math journal after the competition: “When I competed, I was surprised at myself for improving and beating my record so much. I received a lot from it: self-respect, self-control, discipline, sportsmanship, and more.”

Middle and High School Math Contests
In dozens of math competitions, middle and high school mathematicians test their skills in individual and team events, ranging from geometry and basic algebra concepts to complex calculus proofs for the most advanced students. Contests like MathCounts and Continental Math League give middle school students an opportunity to stretch mathematically and prepare for the complex math they’ll see in the high school classroom.

At the high school level, before- and after-school math clubs and teams prepare for competitions, many of which are sponsored by colleges and universities or other K-12 school districts. Schools often field both junior varsity and varsity teams. Members compete, individually and as a team, based on skills and abilities.

“Creative thinking and problem solving are the keynotes of every math activity or competition,” says Billy Jones, who sponsors Grayson High students in math competitions. “Every student gets a chance to grow, express his or her math skills, and hone new skills from each experience.”

Mr. Jones notes that winning students may earn scholarships, honors placement, and even teaching assistant positions, thanks to their math preparation and the degree of proficiency they show in these high-level math competitions. “This is where the curious, innovative, problem-solving math student is allowed to shine in his or her element,” he says. “There is literally something for any student who is interested in math, curious about how to solve the same problem more than one way, and eager to learn about all the diverse areas of math.”

Science Competitions
The Georgia Academy of Science sponsors regional and state competitions, including Science Bowl and Science Olympiad. The organization also sponsors a junior academy at which middle and high school students present research projects.

Engineering and robotics meets, such as the FIRST Lego League and FIRST Robotics Competition, test the skills of competitors from the school system’s middle and high schools respectively. (Yes, the younger students use the popular, plastic building blocks in their competition.)

High school robotics teams work on their projects for hours each day, as many as six days a week during the weeks leading up to competition. Supported by local businesses and industry mentors, the students build and program their robots and perfect the skills their robots must display in competition, all the while, getting real-world experience working with their mentors.

It’s not uncommon for each student to put in up to 100 hours as the team prepares for the sophisticated contests. At the recent high school robotics event, held in the Gwinnett Center Arena, frenzied crowds cheered on their teams. With an atmosphere similar to a sports championship, the robotics meet pits the programmed machines against each other as they complete specific tasks.
With industry mentors from Meggitt Training Systems, the North Gwinnett Robotics Team meets in the practice area to work on programming for the robot that will enable it to drive more accurately.

“The name of the contest defines so much for me,” says Teacher and Sponsor Mike Reilly of North Gwinnett HS. “FIRST means For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology. While no student was an expert in robotics, all of the students were inspired to learn more and to know more about so many aspects of our project. They learned about fundraising for their cause, how to ‘sell’ their ideas and potential, and about relationships with vendors, not to mention the cool technology.”

Mr. Reilly notes that students and mentors already are looking ahead to the 2009 competition, signing up 30 rising freshman for the Robotics Club during a recent registration. Girls in the club requested an opportunity to meet with the Women in Technology Foundation and "lunch and learns" are scheduled as a result.

Team Academic and Problem-Solving Contests

The Berkmar High team, coached by Chris Pae and Brian Bernhardt, is the PAGE Georgia Academic Decathlon State Champion and Division I winner.
GCPS middle and high school students also compete in team events like Academic Bowl, Academic Decathlon, and Quiz Bowl. The PAGE Foundation and the Georgia Academic Team Association sponsor many regional and state events, which cover a wide variety of topics across subject areas, including math and science. Gallaudet University sponsors the Academic Bowl for deaf and hard of hearing high school students as well. Gwinnett teams have been successful in all of these events in recent years.

At all grade levels, problem-solving competitions like Destination ImagiNation, The Future Problem Solving Program, and Odyssey of the Mind challenge teams of students to use their best thinking to find solutions in year-long and on-the spot challenges. Creativity and teamwork are rewarded, and each year, Gwinnett student teams advance to international competition.

Gwinnett students and teams are no stranger to the winner’s circle in these and many other extracurricular competitions each year. However, a gold medal isn’t the only reward when students participate in academic programs. From classroom contests to world-class match-ups, students benefit with higher achievement in the classroom when they put their knowledge and skills to the test.

Emma Mannion and Monya Phillips, both of Five Forks MS; Billy Jones of Grayson HS: Suzanne Hood of Harbins ES; Mike Reilly of North Gwinnett HS; and Tina Gay and Sandee Williams, both of K.E. Taylor ES, Jody Reeves, GCPS Technical Education Director; and Dr. Janet Blanchette, GCPS Math Director, contributed to this report.