Many see the hard work behind those who compete for their schools on the athletic field. The offensive lineman clears the way for the running back to score a touchdown. Volleyball players hone their sets and serves to precision. It takes many swings in the batting cage to excel on the baseball or softball field.
Those who enter academic competitions like Math Field Day, however, put in just as much work and compete with the same Cougar pride.
The competition style has not changed much over the years. Officials look for competitors who demonstrate an elevated understanding and capability in solving mathematical problems and concepts.
Scott Davis, Harrison County Schools Coordinator of Secondary Curriculum, organizes and runs the event for county students. He explained that the contest starts with an “assessment for who the students are who best qualify.” The assessment rates mental math abilities, estimations, and a traditional slate of problems to solve.
“It’s a little different than the every day traditional classroom,” he remarked.
Mental math requires the students to think in a broader and deeper sense about concepts. As Davis explains, “we really get after how kids understand number sense and what they can do in their head.”
“If they can do mental math at that level, they can be quite proficient in other things,” Davis explained.
Another benefit comes from the fact that the assessments “take the calculator out of their hands.” He went on to say that doing math in ones head without the help of electronic devices has become a more rare skill.
Winners at the county level will face a similar style assessment at the regional. Those who perform well enough at regionals move on to state level competition.
Just as in athletics, math and other academic competitions often take years of work to master. Kids “have competed in this for years,” Davis stated.
Those who start in elementary or middle school in academic competitions often do so, Davis said, because there are a very limited amount of competition opportunities outside of academics. They enjoy representing their school and when they or their teammates do well. Older students have an eye toward school or scholarship applications that rate higher for participating in different activities.
Davis shared that he spoke to some contestants this year about their future plans. One indicated that they wanted to go into engineering. Another said they had an interest in biotech. The third, a percussionist, said they wanted to work in music education. He described how math skills translate well to achievement in music. “You need to have some skill in math to understand different beat sequences,” Davis stated.
Math Field Day competitors can be as young as fourth or fifth grade, with the highest being for 10th through 12th graders.
Davis advises parents that it’s just as important to start young with mathematics as reading. “Maybe sometimes we don’t work as hard with math,” he says.
Just like other competitions, the main goal lies in winning, but also having fun. Davis explained “there’s some camaraderie to it. They celebrate together if they win and console each other if they lose.”