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Hot number: Students can have summer fun while they bone up on math skills

July 26, 2012|By SHADAE PAUL | Special to The Herald-Mail
  • MathCounts is geared toward middle school students and exists in almost all Washington County Public schools. It also partners with The Maryland Society of Professional Engineers to host annual math competitions for students.
MathCounts is geared toward middle school students and exists in almost all Washington County Public schools. It also partners with The Maryland Society of Professional Engineers to host annual math competitions for students.

For many kids in the area, summertime evokes thoughts of ice cream, local pools and school-free memories with their friends. Although summer can be more than vacation time for kids, parents can also spend time brushing up on math skills before the beginning of the new school year.

According to the National Summer Learning Association (NSLA), there is a considerable achievement gap for students of all ages during the summer months.

NSLA reports that when students aren’t learning over the summer they lose some of their skills. In research that spans 100 years, the NSLA reports, that “students typically score lower on standardized tests at the end of summer vacation than they do on the same tests at the beginning of the summer.”

The NSLA also found that most students lose about two months of grade-level equivalency in mathematical computation skills over the summer months.

Discovering what parents and students can do to lessen the impact of the achievement gap does not require a lot of research and homework on either part. Finding inspiration can be as simple as utilizing math resources online, taking a trip to the local library or getting advice from local math organizations, such as MathCounts.

Dan Matonak, 61, of Hagerstown is the chairman of the Hagerstown chapter of MathCounts, a national club dedicated to enriching middle school student’s achievement and confidence in math. February 2013 will mark Matonak’s 30th year with MathCounts.

The program exists in almost all Washington and Alleghany counties schools. It also partners with the Maryland Society of Professional Engineers to host annual math competitions for students.

How can you help your kids remain involved with math during the summer months?

MathCounts has many resources on its website that are easily accessible to parents and kids.

“The website is an excellent place to hone skills in math,” Matonak said. “When you can visit a website, play games and work problems, it gives kids incentives to want to do better. A lot of this is considered fun; it’s a challenge but you get enjoyment out of it.”

A few summer vacation-friendly options provided by the MathCounts program are:

 Problem of the Week

Found on the MathCounts website, www.mathcounts.org, the Problem of the Week is a set of math problems with a fun theme or math concept. A new problem set is posted on Monday of each week, and the solutions are available on the Monday of the following week. This can be an excellent resource for kids to get their neurons firing during the summer.

 Math Arcade

The Math Arcade features creative and engaging math games for children to practice math skills. Kids can choose to play on any level — beginner, intermediate or advanced — all the while working on their critical thinking and problem-solving abilities. They can play by themselves or compete against partners. Games online include a puzzle game called RushHour, links to other games on Math.com and CalculationNation, among other sites.

 School Handbook

The School Handbook resource includes handbooks from past years of MathCounts competitions dating as far back as 1985. Luckily, math problems are timeless. Each handbook contains more than 300 math vocabulary words, formulas and problems that meet National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) standards for sixth grade through eighth grade. Children can review these problems with their parents or friends while relaxing on the beach or eating an ice cream treat.

In addition, parents can consider getting inspiration to create opportunities for their kids to learn math from everyday life.

“Math is all around,” Matonak said.

Inspiration can come from calculating the change from a simple retail transaction or asking your child to use problem-solving skills to determine how many miles per gallon are required to complete a family road trip.

Children will be helped beyond the school classroom and they will be helped with their future careers.

“One reason they started the program is because the basics of math is an important factor for people who work in technical fields,” Matonak said. “We see the importance of math and logical thinking; it teaches you how to approach a problem.”

 Traveling tips

While traveling, be sure to take advantage of the ease technology offers for surfing the net. For those staying at a location with Wi-Fi or an accessible Internet café, kids can use their computers or tech gadgets to find math resources online. YouTube, Education.com and MathMovesU.com are some options, to name a few. Matonak suggests kids can also download iPad games or apps.

“Kids can take their computers and things like that with them so they can practice while on vacation,” he said.

 Sign up for MathCounts

When the school year begins, encourage your child to sign up for their school’s MathCounts program. However, students can sign up anytime.

If your child is interested in competing in the annual MathCounts competition, The Maryland Society of Professional Engineers sends each middle school a handbook and registration forms in September, the beginning of the school year. Registration is available through December.

In February, after months of practice and preparation, students go on to compete in the local competition, which is usually held at an area school. Roughly 90 to 100 students participate in this one-day Math-a-Thon. Participants, or “mathletes” as they are commonly called, work individually and in groups to solve brain-twisting problems.

Winners go to the state competition in March. And in May the national competition is held where the best and the brightest compete for the national trophy. Participants who don’t win get other prizes like rulers, MathCounts cups, key chains and Frisbees.

“We have had exceptional students over the years,” Matonak said.

 Keep it balanced

A fair balance of fun and learning is a recipe for a productive summer. Though math may seem daunting, it can be exciting if approached with the right attitude. Overall, it is important to keep students’ minds stimulated during the hot, lazy summer months.

“It is important to get children interested and engaged in math,” Matonak said.

To Learn more ...

To find out more about MathCounts, go to Mathcounts.org

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